What The Hell Is Hearsay?

October 23, 2011

I will start with an example.

A witnesses an accident and later tells B that Igor Ivarson ran a red light and hit Peter Piper in a crosswalk, killing him.

Flash forward to a trial. Igor Ivarson is charged with negligent homicide and the prosecutor calls B to the stand and asks him the following question after establishing that B had dinner with A several hours after the accident:

What, if anything, did A say to you about the accident?

If you are representing Igor and you do not stand up and say in a commanding voice, “Objection, your Honor. The question calls for hearsay”, a hole should open up in the floor beneath your chair disappearing you forever into the Great Beyond From Which There Is No Return. This is an exceedingly grim place not unlike Hell.

B’s answer would be hearsay because he would be repeating what A told him and his answer would be offered to prove that Igor ran the red light and hit Peter Piper in a crosswalk. That is one of the fundamental questions of fact that the prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt in Igor’s trial.

Igor’s right to confront his accusers via cross examination would be violated if A’s statement comes in because Igor’s lawyer cannot cross examine A since A is not on the witness stand. Equally important, A was not under oath when A made the statement and the jury cannot evaluate A’s credibility, if A is not present, questioned, and cross examined.

For purposes of the following definition:

A is the declarant or person who made the statement.

B is the witness in court repeating the declarant’s statement.

(Keep in mind that a statement can be oral or written and also includes non-verbal conduct, if such conduct was intended as an assertion. An example of conduct intended as an assertion would be nodding your head to indicate agreement in response to a question, like “Do you want to eat pizza tonight?”)

Okay, here’s the definition:

“Hearsay” is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted. See Federal Rule of Evidence (FRE) 801(c).

Since A did not make the statement while testifying at the trial or hearing, (he made it out of court before the trial), and A’s statement was offered to prove what the statement asserted, A’s statement is hearsay.

Simple, right?

Okay, what if A’s statement were offered for some other purpose? For example, let’s say it was offered to establish when A first knew about the accident. If that were the case, and that was a relevant issue, A’s statement would not be hearsay since it was offered for a purpose other than establishing the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.

This is a critical distinction that eludes oodles of judges and lawyers, not to mention law students. Don’t you make the same mistake.

By the way, sometimes judges will admit A’s statement, subject to a limiting oral instruction telling the jury that they may only consider A’s statement for the limited purpose of deciding when A first knew about the accident and for no other purpose.

Yah, sure. You betcha.

As if the members of the jury will ever remember that limiting instruction during their deliberations. Sheesh!

Now that you think you know what statements are hearsay, guess what?Some statements that fit the definition of hearsay are defined as not-hearsay.

Think of them as Jokers in a deck of cards.

What are these Jokers?

Hint: Not the football coach at the University of Kentucky.

FRE 801(d) identifies two types of non-hearsay statements:

(1) Prior statements by a witness, and

(2) Admissions by a party opponent.

A prior statement of a declarant who testifies at a trial or hearing is not hearsay if the witness is subject to cross examination about the prior statement and the statement is (A) inconsistent with the declarant’s testimony and was given under oath subject to the penalty of perjury at a trial, hearing, or other proceeding, or in a deposition, or (B) consistent with the declarant’s testimony and is offered to rebut an express or implied charge against the declarant of recent fabrication or improper influence or motive, or (C) one of identification of a person made after perceiving the person.

An admission by a party opponent is a statement by a party to a lawsuit that is offered by the party’s opponent. Note that only the opponent can offer the seemingly hearsay statement; the party who made the statement cannot offer it. For example, if Igor Ivarson confessed that he ran a red light and hit Peter Piper in the crosswalk, his statement is admissible as an admission by a party opponent, even though it is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.

Can the defendant offer his own statement for another purpose, in other words, to prove something other than the truth of the matter asserted in the statement?

Yes, for example, to prove that the person to whom he made the statement acted in reliance on that statement, if that is an issue in the case. I will provide a detailed example of this situation in my next post as this is exactly what happened in Crane-Station’s case.

Suppose Igor Ivarson told the police that he was not driving the vehicle that struck Peter Piper. Would his exculpatory statement be admissible to prove that he was not driving the vehicle?

Not unless the prosecutor, who is the party opponent, offered it and no prosecutor is that stupid. At least they are not supposed to be.

There is only one exception to this rule and that is based on a defendant’s constitutional right to present a defense. If the statement is the only exculpatory evidence available, he cannot be prevented from offering his statement by this rule.

Finally, a statement by a coconspirator in furtherance of a conspiracy is admissible against the coconspirator and other members of the conspiracy.

NEXT: Exceptions to the hearsay rule.

Any questions?

Cross posted at my website and the Smirking Chimp.

And because Dakine always says he can, I will too:


Environmental Personhood

October 23, 2011

Laguna de Cuicocha, Imbabura, Ecuador
Laguna de Cuicocha, Imbabura, Ecuador
By sara y tzunky on Flickr under noncommercial use Creative Commons

Author’s note: I inadvertently left this chapter and a few others out of Namaste: If Not Now, When? and have decided to include them. The previous chapters in the book can be accessed here in my diaries or at my blog.

Ecuador is a democratic republic situated on the west coast of South America. Small and wedge-shaped, it straddles the equator bordering Colombia to the north and Peru to the south. Ecuador also owns the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean 620 miles west of Guayaquil, the nation’s largest coastal city and port. The Andes mountain range traverses the middle of the country from north to south separating it into three distinct regions: coastal plain, highlands, and Amazonian jungle.

Quito, the capitol, is in the highlands at an altitude of 10,000 feet and even though it is less than ten kilometers south of the equator, the weather year round is mild with daytime temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s and nighttime temperatures in the 40s and low 50s.

I lived in Quito when I was in 6th and 7th grade; my father was a Foreign Service Officer employed by the United States Department of State. I remember Quito very well. It’s one of the most beautiful places I have ever been and I hope to return there someday.

In September 2008, the citizens of Ecuador went to the polls and rocked the world approving a new constitution, the first in world history to recognize that Pachamama, or Nature is not a thing to own and exploit at will. The Constitution recognizes that she has the inalienable right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate her vital cycles, structure, functions and evolutionary processes. The Constitution provides,

Rights for Nature

Article 1. Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution.

Every person, people, community or nationality, will be able to demand the recognitions of rights for nature before the public organisms. The application and interpretation of these rights will follow the related principles established in the Constitution.

Article 2. Nature has the right to an integral restoration. This integral restoration is independent of the obligation on natural and juridical persons or the State to indemnify the people and the collectives that depend on the natural systems.

In the cases of severe or permanent environmental impact, including the ones caused by the exploitation of non renewable natural resources, the State will establish the most efficient mechanisms for the restoration, and will adopt the adequate measures to eliminate or mitigate the harmful environmental consequences.

Article 3. The State will motivate natural and judicial persons as well as collectives to protect nature; it will promote respect towards all the elements that form an ecosystem.

Article 4. The State will apply precaution and restriction measures in all the activities that can lead to the extinction of species, the destruction of the ecosystems or the permanent alteration of the natural cycles.

The introduction of organisms and organic and inorganic material that can alter in a definitive way the national genetic patrimony is prohibited.

Article 5. The persons, people, communities and nationalities will have the right to benefit from the environment and form natural wealth that will allow wellbeing.

Ecuador’s new constitution also created an independent federal human-rights ombudsperson who can only be removed by the legislature for cause — not for political reasons. The position is called the Public Defender, a person who serves a five-year term that may be renewed once and, although the office has no prosecutorial powers, the constitution grants it the power to investigate and expose all human-rights crimes, whether committed by the government or by others.

Native and maternal traditions have long recognized that the Earth is our mother. The ancient Greeks did too and they named her spirit Gaia, goddess of the primordial Earth. In the 1960s while he was employed by NASA and working on methods to detect life on Mars, James Lovelock developed the Gaia hypothesis, which proposes that living and non-living parts of the earth form a complex interacting system that can be thought of as a single organism.

Gaia is the fabled Garden of Eden and in the spirit of Ubuntu, we are diminished whenever one of us diminishes her.

Not long after Ecuador officially granted Gaia environmental personhood, the RATS on the United States Supreme Court (Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia, plus Kennedy the swing man) legitimized raping Gaia for profit and killed our democracy in the Citizens United case when they held that corporations are persons with First Amendment rights to buy elections.

Two decisions, one in Ecuador and one in the United States illustrate two societies headed in opposite directions. We must find a way to reverse course. Our survival and Gaia’s survival depend on it.

The banksters and their neoliberal criminal class will reduce our Garden of Eden to a lifeless cinder circling the Sun, if we fail.

Namaste

http://www.flickr.com/photos/66500846@N05/6136336046/in/photostream/lightbox/
Photograph of the Tree That Owns Itself taken by Bloodofox of the Wikipedia Research Project in 2005 and posted in the Wikipedia Commons, released without restriction. Special thanks to thatvisionthing (see comment below) for providing a link to the story about the tree in Wikipedia.

Cross Posted at my blog and the Smirking Chimp.


Why I Am Opposed To The Death Penalty

October 23, 2011

I am opposed to the death penalty in all cases. Period.

I have many reasons. Here are a few of them.

First and foremost, I oppose it because it is immoral. That it is imposed following a jury trial and appellate review, does not wash the defendant’s blood off the jury’s hands and, by extension, our hands because state sanctioned premeditated murder is still premeditated murder. No government ever should be in the business of killing its own people.

Second, death penalty cases typically cost more than three times the cost of incarcerating a defendant to life without possibility of parole.

Third, the death penalty has no deterrent effect. It does not reduce homicide rates. In fact, the opposite is true. Homicide rates are highest in the states that have a death penalty and lowest in the states that do not have a death penalty.

Fourth, our criminal justice system is so infected with racism, corrupt, and broken that it is impossible to know for certain if any given defendant committed the crime charged and, if he did, whether he deserves the death penalty, as opposed to life without parole.

Most people do not know that under our laws there is no murder, however heinous or depraved, that automatically results in a death sentence. When a jury convicts a defendant of a death eligible offense, the case proceeds to a sentencing phase in which the jury ultimately must decide whether the prosecution proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the aggravating evidence (typically the murder and the defendant’s prior record, if any) so outweighs the mitigating evidence (evidence about the defendant and his role in committing the murder) that the defendant should forfeit his life. Assuring consistency that similarly situated defendants convicted of committing similar murders are consistently sentenced to life without possibility of parole instead of death, or vice versa, has proven to be impossible within states, let alone between states.

In Callins v. Collins, 510 U.S. 1141 (1994), Justice Harry Blackmun dissented from the United States Supreme Court’s denial of review in a death penalty case stating,

From this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death. For more than 20 years I have endeavored — indeed, I have struggled — along with a majority of this Court, to develop procedural and substantive rules that would lend more than the mere appearance of fairness to the death penalty endeavor. Rather than continue to coddle the Court’s delusion that the desired level of fairness has been achieved and the need for regulation eviscerated, I feel morally and intellectually obligated simply to concede that the death penalty experiment has failed. It is virtually self-evident to me now that no combination of procedural rules or substantive regulations ever can save the death penalty from its inherent constitutional deficiencies. The basic question — does the system accurately and consistently determine which defendants “deserve” to die? — cannot be answered in the affirmative. It is not simply that this Court has allowed vague aggravating circumstances to be employed, see, e. g., Arave v. Creech, 507 U. S. 463 (1993), relevant mitigating evidence to be disregarded, see, e. g., Johnson v. Texas, 509 U. S. 350 (1993), and vital judicial review to be blocked, see, e. g., Coleman v. Thompson, 501 U. S. 722 (1991). The problem is that the inevitability of factual, legal, and moral error gives us a system that we know must wrongly kill some defendants, a system that fails to deliver the fair, consistent, and reliable sentences of death required by the Constitution.

He concluded,

Perhaps one day this Court will develop procedural rules or verbal formulas that actually will provide consistency, fairness, and reliability in a capital sentencing scheme. I am not optimistic that such a day will come. I am more optimistic, though, that this Court eventually will conclude that the effort to eliminate arbitrariness while preserving fairness “in the infliction of [death] is so plainly doomed to failure that it—and the death penalty— must be abandoned altogether.” Godfrey v. Georgia, 446 U. S. 420, 442 (1980) (Marshall, J., concurring in judgment). I may not live to see that day, but I have faith that eventually it will arrive. The path the Court has chosen lessens us all. I dissent.

Justice Blackmun was a conservative Republican who believed strongly in the death penalty when he was appointed to the Supreme Court. As you can see, he finally reached the conclusion that it is impossible to fairly and equitably decide who lives and who dies. I reached the same conclusion, based on my 30 years of experience as a lawyer specializing in death penalty defense and forensics.

Justice Blackmun died in 1999.


Occupy: What To Do If You Are Subpoenaed To Testify Before A Federal Grand Jury

October 23, 2011


Lawyers, Guns, and Money by Warren Zevon

Author’s Note: I published this at Firedoglake/MyFDL on October 6, 2010 just after people, who had protested at the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis in 2008, were subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury in Chicago investigating them to determine if they had provided material support to terrorists and/or a terrorist group.

I am reposting it here a little over a year later because I suspect it may be useful information to some of our readers, especially those in the Occupy Everywhere movement.

I was a criminal defense lawyer for 30 years and a law professor for 3 years. I represented many clients over the years in federal court, so I have a lot of experience representing people subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.

State grand juries generally work the same way but are significantly less often used aggressively as federal prosecutors typically use them.

Namaste Read the rest of this entry »


%d bloggers like this: