Post Content

On March 1, 1692, three women, Sarah OsborneSarah Good  and Tituba , were charged with the illegal practice of witchcraft, setting in motion the infamous Salem Witch trials during which numerous other people were similarly charged.  The newly appointed Governor, William Phips, created the Court of Oyer and Terminer, “to hear and determine”, the cases of all the accused witches.

The Court of Oyer and Terminer convened on June 2, 1692, with Chief Magistrate William Stoughton presiding.  A controversial type of evidence allowed in the proceedings was called spectral evidence.  Although impossible to prove, this evidence allowed the accusers to state that an accused’s spirit had appeared to them, and it was accepted based on the Puritan belief that the devil was real.

In  October of 1692, Governor Phips ordered the Court of Oyer and Terminer dissolved and replaced with the Superior Court of Judicature.  This new Court was directed to ignore all spectral testimony and base their decisions on tangible facts.  It was too late, however, for the 19 people put to death for practicing witchcraft.

With the enactment of the Massachusetts Constitution, the Superior Court of Judicature was renamed the Supreme Judicial Court.  Since then evidence allowed in Massachusetts Courts is governed by various sources, including the constitution, statutes, common law and the rules of court, all discussed in the Massachusetts Guide to Evidence.

Written By:


Recent Posts

New Law Gives Added Protections for Persons with Disabilities posted on Feb 20

Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker signed a new law on February 13, 2020 which gives more protections to individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities.  Chapter 19 of the Acts of 2020 establishes a registry for caretakers in Massachusetts who have been found to have caused serious physical   …Continue Reading New Law Gives Added Protections for Persons with Disabilities

Real Estate Recording Fees to be Increased posted on Dec 10

Under Massachusetts General Laws chapter 44B section 8,  real property conveyance documents recorded at the Registry of Deeds are subject to a Community Preservation Act surcharge.  This law was amended by chapter 41 sections 29 and 30 of the Acts of 2019.  Effective December 31,   …Continue Reading Real Estate Recording Fees to be Increased

Portraits in Massachusetts Law: Lucy Stone posted on Nov 13

Portraits in Massachusetts Law: Lucy Stone

Portraits in Massachusetts Law is a regular feature of Massachusetts Law Updates. These pages provide links to biographical information abut people who have been particularly important in legal history in Massachusetts, as our government took shape in the cauldron of the American Revolution and grew and changed throughout   …Continue Reading Portraits in Massachusetts Law: Lucy Stone