What really happened moments after the gunshot in the Zimmerman case

June 22, 2013

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Good morning:

Don West impeached his client with the legal document he filed yesterday titled, Defendant’s Specific Response to State’s Motion in Limine Regarding Self-Serving Hearsay Statements of Defendant.

He said at pages 2-3.

Witness 13 and his wife heard a commotion in the back of their townhome. They heard yelling and then heard a shot. Witness 13 grabbed a flashlight and went outside to see what had happened. Within seconds of the shooting, W13 approached Mr. Zimmerman who was staggering, bleeding and breathing hard. The witness observed blood on Mr. Zimmerman’s face and the back of his head consistent with someone having been injured in a fight. Mr. Zimmerman asked W13 if he was bleeding? Witness 13 said “Yes” and W13 asked Mr. Zimmerman what had happened? Mr. Zimmerman told W13 that the other person was “beating me up” and he shot him.

Within a minute or so, Sanford Police Officer Tim Smith arrived on foot at the location where Mr. Zimmerman and W13 were standing. Officer Smith spoke with Mr. Zimmerman at the scene upo his arrival. Mr. Zimmerman acknowledged being the person who fired the shot and that he had a firearm on him. Mr. Zimmerman spontaneously stated that he had yelled for help and that no one helped him.

With that fresh in your mind, please watch what the defendant told the police about those moments during his walk-through for the Sanford Police Department a little less than 24 hours after he killed Trayvon Martin.

Thank you to LLMPapa for preparing these two clips from the walk-through.

Clip 1

Clip 2

Congratulations, Mr. West.

You have succeeded in proving that your client lied.

Can you pass the straight-face test when you argue to Judge Nelson that the defendant’s “spontaneous” statements to W13 are reliable and accurate?

What is she going to think about your credibility and professionalism when the State shows her the walk-through video?

By the way, was his statement to the person he called on his cell phone another “spontaneous” utterance?

As long as you are spillin’ the beans, why don’t you tell us who he called and what he said.

FYI: A few minutes after I posted this article, I reversed the order of the two clips because #2, which is now #1, is more directly relevant given the focus of the article. I apologize for any confusion that may have caused.


Zimmerman’s statements after the shooting are not admissible

June 21, 2013

Friday, June 21, 2013

Good evening:

Don West filed a written motion this afternoon identifying the defendant’s statements that he claims are admissible pursuant to the res gestae exception to the hearsay rule.

The statements are hearsay and not admissible pursuant to the res gestae or any other exception to the hearsay rule.

Mr. West describes the statements as follows:

Witness 13 and his wife heard a commotion in the back of their townhome. They heard yelling and then heard a shot. Witness 13 grabbed a flashlight and went outside to see what had happened. Within seconds of the shooting, W13 approached Mr. Zimmerman who was staggering, bleeding and breathing hard. The witness observed blood on Mr. Zimmerman’s face and the back of his head consistent with someone having been injured in a fight. Mr. Zimmerman asked W13 if he was bleeding? Witness 13 said “Yes” and W13 asked Mr. Zimmerman what had happened? Mr. Zimmerman told W13 that the other person was “beating me up” and he shot him.

Within a minute or so, Sanford Police Officer Tim Smith arrived on foot at the location where Mr. Zimmerman and W13 were standing. Officer Smith spoke with Mr. Zimmerman at the scene upo his arrival. Mr. Zimmerman acknowledged being the person who fired the shot and that he had a firearm on him. Mr. Zimmerman spontaneously stated that he had yelled for help and that no one helped him.

The defense bases its argument on Alexander v. State, 627 So.2d 35, 43-44 (1st DCA 1993), where the Court stated,

We conclude that the trial court erred in excluding the testimony of witnesses to the shooting that described appellant Alexander’s exclamations and actions immediately after firing the shot that killed the victim. This testimony was admissible under the res gestae rule now codified in sections 90.803(1), (2), and (3), Florida Statutes (1991), which define the conditions for admissibility of (1) spontaneous statements, (2) excited utterances, and (3) then existing mental and emotional conditions of the declarant. The statements about which these witnesses could testify were made almost simultaneously with the act of shooting, a period of time too short to support a finding of fabrication that would destroy the apparent trustworthiness of this evidence. The mere fact that statements are self-serving is not, in and of itself, a sufficient evidentiary basis for their exclusion from evidence. No legal principle excludes statements or conduct of a party solely on the ground that such statements or conduct is self-serving. State v. Johnson, 671 P.2d 215 (Utah 1983); State v. Wallace, 97 Ariz. 296, 399 P.2d 909 (1965); Commonwealth v. Fatalo, 345 Mass. 85, 185 N.E.2d 754 (1962). See also United States v. Dellinger, 472 F.2d 340, 381 (7th Cir.1972), cert. denied, 410 U.S. 970, 93 S.Ct. 1443, 35 L.Ed.2d 706 (1973). While exculpatory statements of the accused generally are excluded from criminal cases because of their hearsay character, 29 Am.Jur.2d Evidence § 621 (1967), the courts of this state have long recognized an exception to this general rule where the statements form a part of the res gestae of the alleged offense. Jenkins v. State, 58 Fla. 62, 50 So. 582 (1909); Lowery v. State, 402 So.2d 1287 (Fla. 5th DCA 1981); Watkins v. State, 342 So.2d 1057 (Fla. 1st DCA), cert. denied, 353 So.2d 680 (Fla. 1977).[2] Furthermore, Florida has followed a liberal rule concerning the admittance of res gestae statements. See Appell v. State, 250 So.2d 318 (Fla. 4th DCA), cert. denied, 257 So.2d 257 (Fla. 1971). Accordingly, we do not see any basis on this record for concluding that this testimony was lacking in apparent trustworthiness and probative value. Thus, we are impelled to conclude that the exclusion of the proffered testimony of res gestae statements in this case was an abuse of discretion and, under the circumstances of this case, cannot be treated as harmless error.

(Emphasis supplied)

Accord: Stiles v. State, 672 So.2d 850 (4th DCA 1996).

Therefore, the critical question for Judge Nelson to decide is whether the statements “form a part of the res gestae of the alleged offense” such that the Court can find that there is no basis to conclude that “the testimony [is] lacking in apparent trustworthiness and probative value.”

Contrary to the defense assertion that “within seconds of the shooting,” the witness saw the defendant “staggering, bleeding and breathing hard,” the evidence will show that the witness described the defendant as “calm and collected” and within a few minutes all of his vital signs were normal when an EMT checked him. Indeed, he was cool, calm and collected.

With the exception of a few minor injuries that did not require stitches, a trip to the ER or even a bandaid, the defendant did not even appear to have been in a fight. Moreover, the only witness who described seeing a fight subsequently retracted that statement.

The evidence also will establish that the terrified death shriek ended when the defendant fired the fatal shot and both of the state’s expert witnesses have excluded the defendant as the person who uttered that haunting scream.

The evidence will show that, at the time he uttered the statements, he knew that the police were on their way and due to arrive any second.

Finally, the evidence will show that, instead of using his cell phone to call 911 for an emergency vehicle and attempting CPR until medical assistance arrived, he mounted Trayvon, placed his hands around his throat and subsequently stood up and had a casual conversation with a neighbor about the type of gun and ammunition he used to shoot Trayvon.

Under these circumstances, unlike the two cases cited by Mr. West, there is no basis for Judge Nelson to conclude that the statements “form a part of the res gestae of the alleged offense” such that the Court can find that there is no basis to conclude that “the testimony [is] lacking in apparent trustworthiness and probative value.” In fact, quite the opposite is true.

Here is Wiki with a little more information on the res gestae exception, in case it remains unclear:

Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, res gestae is an exception to the rule against hearsay evidence based on the belief that, because certain statements are made naturally, spontaneously, and without deliberation during the course of an event, they leave little room for misunderstanding/misinterpretation upon hearing by someone else (i.e., by the witness, who will later repeat the statement to the court) and thus the courts believe that such statements carry a high degree of credibility. Statements that can be admitted into evidence as res gestae fall into three headings:

Words or phrases that either form part of, or explain, a physical act,

Exclamations that are so spontaneous as to belie concoction, and

Statements that are evidence of someone’s state of mind.

The defendant’s statements establish that he was in a full cover-up mode knowing that the police were en route and due to arrive any second.

Therefore, the cases cited by Mr. West do not apply and the defendant’s statements are inadmissible hearsay.

______________________________________________________________

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The Decision From Hell (Part 2)

December 28, 2011

Yesterday, in Part 1 of this post, I critiqued the first part of the Court of Appeals decision affirming the trial court’s denial of her pretrial motion to suppress evidence.

I concluded that the Court of Appeals erred because it improperly relied on evidence (1) obtained after the deputy stopped Crane Station and (2) facts invented by the trial court. The Court of Appeals also (3) erroneously claimed that her appellate lawyer had failed to challenge any of the trial court’s findings of fact. I provided links to the decision by the Court of Appeals and Crane’s Opening Brief on Appeal and her Reply Brief.

In a related post today entitled How Could Judge Taylor Forget Garcia v. Commonwealth, I discussed a decision he wrote reaching the opposite conclusion on a set of materially indistinguishable facts. You may find that to be an interesting and helpful follow-up to Part 1 since he is one the three judges who decided her case. I also referenced Crane’s Petition for Rehearing of the decision by the Court of Appeals just so there is no misunderstanding or confusion regarding whether her lawyer challenged the findings of fact.

This first part of the decision by the Court of Appeals stands for the proposition that a motion to suppress based on an argument that a police officer lacked a reasonable suspicion to stop someone can be decided on the basis of information he acquires after the stop. Likewise an argument that a police officer lacked probable cause to arrest can be decided on the basis of evidence that turns up after the arrest. Both principles are contrary to long established federal and state case law and eviscerate the Fourth Amendment.

Therefore, the Kentucky State Supreme Court must grant discretionary review and reverse the Court of Appeals. If it does not, trial courts across the state will create havoc by following the decision by the Court of Appeals and denying motions to suppress in violation of a long line of state and federal cases. Eventually, the Supreme Court would have to grant review in one of those cases and overrule the Court of Appeals in the Leatherman case.

That is why it is necessary to grant discretionary review.

Today, I will critique that part of the decision that deals with Crane’s statement that her watch had fallen behind the seat during the ride to the hospital and her request for the deputy’s assistance to retrieve her watch for her.

Tomorrow in Part 3, I will deal with the final issue; namely, the decision by the Court of Appeals that the trial court properly denied her motion for a directed verdict of acquittal on the DUI charge. Due to the length of today’s article, I have decided that I should discuss the latter issue in a separate post.

When Deputy McGuire assisted Crane to get out of the back seat of his patrol vehicle at the hospital (because she was handcuffed with her hands behind her back), she told him that her watch had fallen off her wrist and dropped behind the rear seat during the ride. She asked him to please retrieve it for her. That is undisputed.

At the preliminary hearing, McGuire testified that, after they returned to his vehicle following the blood draw, he pulled the seat back, saw the watch and the suspected controlled substance near it, and seized both of them. When her lawyer asked him if he could see the two items before he pulled the seat back, he said. “No.” However, at the suppression hearing, he testified that he saw both items in “plain view” sitting at the top of the seatbelt crack next to where she was sitting when he opened the door to assist her to get out of his vehicle at the hospital.

Those two statements are mutually exclusive. They cannot both be true and there is no question that Crane’s lawyer was entitled to challenge the deputy’s credibility at trial by impeaching him with his prior inconsistent statement under oath at the preliminary hearing. Nevertheless, the trial judge sustained an improper objection by the prosecutor to that line of inquiry preventing him from eliciting the inconsistent statement.

Why did the trial judge do that?

Before jury selection, the trial judge granted the prosecutor’s motion in limine (i.e., at the beginning) for an order preventing the defense from introducing Crane’s statement about her watch and her request for his assistance in retrieving it on the ground that her statement was inadmissible hearsay.

I have addressed this issue previously in Hearsay, Part Deaux.

The judge’s ruling was improper because the statement was not hearsay, since it was not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. It was offered to show that, as a result of something she said (and it really does not matter what it was, which is why it was not offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted), he pulled the seat back to look for her watch and found both the watch and the suspected controlled substance in proximity to each other.

There is nothing misleading or improper about allowing the jury to hear that evidence because that is the way it happened, according to the deputy’s testimony at the preliminary hearing.

Instead, the jury only heard the deputy’s trial version of his discovery, which was that he found her watch and the suspected controlled substance in plain view on top of the rear seat in the seatbelt crack right next to where she was sitting. To make matters worse, in his final summation the prosecutor said the proximity of her watch to the suspected controlled substance in plain view amounted to her “autograph” on the controlled substance and she had not offered any explanation for how they happened to be in plain view together in the seatbelt crack right next to her.

It’s not surprising in the least that the jury found her guilty of possession and evidence tampering for attempting to conceal the rock of crack. Would the jury have convicted her if they knew that the deputy found the rock not in plain view, but under his back seat because she asked him to retrieve her watch from under the seat?

I do not believe the jury would have convicted her because who would ask a police officer to retrieve their watch from under the seat, if they had lost the watch while attempting to slough a controlled substance?

That was her defense, but the trial judge took it away from her with his ruling in limine.

The Court of Appeals did not decide whether her statement about her watch and request for his assistance to find her watch was inadmissible hearsay. Instead, it dodged the issue by saying the error, if any, was harmless because she could have testified about her statement and request. Indeed, the Court of Appeals noted that the trial judge told her that she could testify about it.

Why does this not make any sense?

(1) If the statement were hearsay, it is not admissible, whether or not she testifies. That is the law and the trial judge cannot create an exception that does not exist.

(2) She had a constitutional right under the Fifth Amendment not to testify and a right to have the judge instruct the jury that it cannot hold her silence against her. In other words, silence is not evidence of guilt.

(3) The judge’s unlawful exception was a manipulative and coercive effort to force her to testify against her will in violation of her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and not have her silence held against her.

(4) If she had testified, the jury would have been presented with a classic he-said-she-said controversy in which he said he found her watch and the rock together in plain view at the top of the seatbelt crack on the seat right next to her, and she said he found it under the seat after she asked him to look for her watch. Not even the longest long shot Louie at Hialeah would put a fin on her fate in such a swearing contest.

(5) Who could deny that the odds on the outcome of that he-said-she-said swearing contest would change dramatically, if the jury found out that the deputy had previously testified under oath at the preliminary hearing, about a week after her arrest, confirming her statement. The suppression hearing was five months after her arrest and the trial was 18 months after her arrest, by the way. There can be little doubt that the jury would have believed her and disbelieved his plain-view testimony. Then their whole case falls apart.

(6) That is why her lawyer’s attempt to cross examine the deputy by impeaching him with his prior inconsistent statement under oath at the preliminary hearing was proper and legitimate.

To call this error harmless is disingenuous and absurd. But guess what? That is not even the right test. Why is it not the right test?

The trial judge’s order in limine and his ruling preventing her lawyer from impeaching the deputy with the deputy’s prior inconsistent statement under oath at the preliminary hearing took away her defense.

A defendant in a criminal case has a constitutional right to put on a defense and her right to do that was denied to her by the trial judge’s rulings and aggravated by the prosecutor’s closing argument in which he commented on her silence, which is forbidden by the Fifth Amendment. He also attempted to switch the burden of proof over to her to prove her innocence, which is a denial of due process of law under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

When the court and a prosecutor violate a defendant’s constitutional rights, the test presumes the error affected the outcome of the trial and the prosecution must rebut that presumption by proof beyond a reasonable doubt that it did not.That is a far different test from the one employed by the Court of Appeals.

There is no way the prosecution can meet its burden in this case. Therefore, the Court of Appeals must be reversed on this issue.

Until tomorrow . . .


Investigatory Stop Or Voluntary Citizen Initiated Contact With Police?

November 11, 2011

An interesting Fourth Amendment issue arises from time to time regarding whether a police officer initiates a contact with a person operating a motor vehicle by pulling it over, or the driver voluntarily initiates the contact by stopping the vehicle and signals for assistance by turning on the vehicle’s blinking hazard lights, as might be the case for example, with a health emergency, a flat tire, or running out of gas.

With few exceptions, the first situation is prohibited by the Fourth Amendment, unless the officer has a “reasonable suspicion” that the motorist has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. A reasonable suspicion is more than a mere hunch because it must be supported by an articulable set of objective facts and circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to suspect that the individual being observed had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime. In the standard drunk driving case, for example, an officer would have a reasonable suspicion to believe the operator of a motor vehicle was impaired by alcohol if the vehicle was weaving, crossing the center line, exceeding the speed limit, and speeding up and slowing down erratically. The courts apply a flexible totality of the circumstances test in determining whether the officer’s suspicion was reasonable in any given case. The courts will not consider information acquired after a stop because the officer did not know it prior to the stop and could not have relied on information he did not know.

The second situation is not subject to the Fourth Amendment because there is no seizure when a police-citizen contact is initiated voluntarily by the citizen, or the citizen appears to require assistance. This means that an officer does not have to have a reasonable suspicion to contact a citizen who initiates the contact, or otherwise appears to require assistance. This distinction certainly makes sense when one considers, for example, the plight of a motorist who may have suffered a heart attack, turned on the hazard lights, pulled over, and stopped the vehicle before lapsing into unconsciousness. It would not make any sense to require a police officer to have a reasonable suspicion to believe that the apparently unconscious person was committing a crime to justify stopping to check on the person.

Unfortunately, however, the distinction between an investigatory stop that requires a reasonable suspicion under the Fourth Amendment and the voluntary citizen initated contact with a police officer that is not subject to the Fourth Amendment is not always easy to determine. As with the reasonable suspicion test, the courts consider the totality of the circumstances and ask whether a reasonable person in the same set of circumstances faced by the person in the case under review would have believed that he was free to terminate the contact at any time and drive away rather than remain and submit to the authority of the law enforcement officer until released.

This issue was raised by the prosecution in Crane-Station’s case. The trial judge agreed with the prosecution and ruled that the arresting officer, McCracken County Sheriff Deputy Eddie McGuire, did not require a reasonable suspicion to pull her over because she had voluntarily initiated a citizen-police contact to which the Fourth Amendment did not apply.

Consider the following evidence, apply the legal rules that I have set forth and explained for you, and see if you agree with the trial judge’s conclusion.

At the suppression hearing on November 27, 2006, Deputy McGuire testified that he was dispatched to investigate a 911 call. After he arrived, he checked the neighborhood for a few minutes looking for a dark blue Buick LeSabre with Washington plates that was described the caller. When he did not find it, he cleared the call and headed back toward town on U.S. Highway 60.

(Note: The content of this call has been discussed in a previous article (link). Briefly, the caller told the 911 dispatcher that the driver of the vehicle had mentioned “something about tar heroin and all that stuff” while talking to his neighbor in the neighbor’s yard and writing in her notebook. Since this information, even if true, describes what someone said to another person that may or may not have been witnessed by the caller and it does not describe a crime or an attempt to commit a crime, the call was insufficient to cause a reasonable person to suspect that the person described by the caller had committed, was committing, or was about to commit a crime. To conclude otherwise would be to hold that police officer may lawfully seize and investigate any person who mentions the name of a controlled substance to another person. Such a rule not only would dispense with the requirement that the suspected behavior be criminal in nature, it would violate a person’s right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment.)

As McGuire approached the traffic-light controlled intersection at U.S. Highway 60 and Cairo Road, he suddenly realized that he was passing a vehicle that matched the description provided by the 911 caller. After admitting that he did not know how fast he was driving as he approached and drew alongside her vehicle (Suppression Transcript p. 13), he said,

As I was passing the vehicle she had her left blinker on as if she was going to turn out in the passing lane, but she never did.

And then as I was going to go ahead and go past her, I noticed that the license plate – it was a Washington license plate was the description that was also given at the time of the call. So when I noticed that, I slowed down and let her go back by me, and then when I pulled in behind her, she pulled over.

(Suppression Transcript p. 6)

The prosecutor asked him when he turned on his emergency lights and he said,

I just pulled in behind her, and she started to pull over. That’s when I lit her up.

(Suppression Transcript p. 6)

On cross-examination, defense counsel asked McGuire if she “was driving appropriately.” He said,

I was going – yes. She didn’t bring my attention as far as weaving or nothing like that. Speed wasn’t a factor.

(Suppression Transcript p. 13)

Defense counsel focused on the blinking left-turn signal with a few questions.

Q: Okay. And apparently, your testimony is that she had on her turn signal?

A: She had her left-turn signal on as if she was going to come into the left lane. That’s what brought my attention to that vehicle to begin with. And then as I was passing her, I noticed it had Washington tags.

Q: So I guess there’s at least a possibility she was going to move into the left lane and –

A: Right.

Q: — saw your vehicle and elected not to?

A: Correct. That’s possible.

(Suppression Transcript pp. 12-13)

Defense counsel asked him to describe when she activated her right-turn signal. He said,

A: She turned her other turn signal on when she was going into the emergency lane just to stop.

Q: When she was getting ready to pull over?

A: Yes.

(Suppression. Transcript p. 15)

When defense counsel asked him if he activated his lights “even before she came to a complete stop,” McGuire answered, “Correct.” (Suppression Transcript p. 14)

Q: So, technically, you did stop the vehicle?

A: I was going to, anyway, yes. When she started to pull over, I just went ahead and turned my lights on.

Q: When you fell in behind her, she pretty much –

A: She – yeah. I suppose she assumed I was going to stop her, so she went ahead and pulled over anyway.

Q: Safe assumption under those circumstances?

A: Right.

(Suppression Transcript 14-15)

Consider also that Deputy McGuire wrote in his Uniform Citation and Offense Report that he stopped her, which he confirmed in testimony under oath at the Preliminary Hearing and before the Grand Jury.

In addition, on October 17, 2006, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney (now a McCracken County District Court judge) Christopher B. Hollowell prepared and filed the Commonwealth’s Bill of Particulars declaring in pertinent part under penalty of perjury that Deputy McGuire “stopped” her vehicle.

(Note: this is also admissible non-hearsay as a declaration by a party opponent that arguably should be dispositive of the legal issue. See Part 1 of my four-part series on the hearsay rule.)

The critical question then is whether a reasonable person in Crane-Station’s position would have pulled over into the emergency lane and subsequently stopped her vehicle after a police officer, who had pulled alongside her, slowed down, fell in immediately behind her, and activated his emergency lights as she moved over into the emergency lane?

We do not believe the answer to this question is reasonably debatable, especially since the officer who pulled her over wrote in his report and consistently testified under oath at three different pretrial hearings that he “stopped” her. Finally, in the suppression hearing, he testified that he intended to stop her and he conceded that her reaction to his behavior by pulling over and stopping was reasonable under the circumstances.

He was the only witness who testified at the suppression hearing.

We believe that only outcome driven judicial mendacity by the trial judge and the Court of Appeals, aided and abetted by a strong dose of prosecutorial legerdemain in formulating an argument unsupported by the police officer, who was the only witness, could conclude on this set of undisputed facts that Crane-Station voluntarily initiated a citizen-police contact.

Author’s disclosure: Crane-Station is my wife. We were married and I was a law professor when this incident intruded into our lives.

Cross posted at Firedoglake/MyFDL and at the Smirking Chimp.


Hearsay Rule (Part 4)

October 23, 2011

Welcome back, class.

First, here’s a clip showing the best opening statement that I have ever seen.

Before we review the remaining exceptions to the hearsay rule, I want to emphasize the difference between the present-sense-impression exception, which is a statement by the declarant reacting to an event as it happens or shortly thereafter, and the excited utterance exception, which is a statement reacting to an event while under the influence of the emotional response caused by the event. For example, let’s return to our cozy couple, Amy and Beauregard, lost as they are in each other’s eyes to the eternal frustration of the waiter and owner of the restaurant, who want to lock-up and go home. Let’s also move the dinner to a month after the accident.

Beauregard nudges the bill aside and reaches for Amy’s hands saying, “I’m so sorry, honey. Tears and mascara are strolling hand in hand down her lustrous apple cheeks and falling on the white linen tablecloth, staining it. “You liked Peter, didn’t you?”

“Yes. Even though he was my boss and kind of nerdy. I’ll never forget his screams. I never heard someone scream like that. It was awful, Beau.”

“How did it happen?”

“Igor Ivarson ran the red light and hit him in the crosswalk and he bled to death right in front of me.” She sobbed and squeezed more tears from her baby blues.

Okay, is her statement admissible under the present-sense-impression exception?

No, because her statement describes an event that occurred a month earlier.

Is her statement admissible as an excited utterance?

Yes, because she was under the emotional influence of the event.

Note that this exception has been used to introduce the statements of sexual assault crime victims, particularly children under the age of 5, even though they were being questioned by adults, social workers, or police using leading questions, and even though the child never testified at the defendant’s trial. This is an especially difficult situation for prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges, not to mention the children and the defendants. Young children are particularly susceptible to forming false memories regarding incidents that never happened when authority figures question them with leading questions, e.g., “Is that when your daddy touched you in your private place?”

Now, beginning with the third exception, since we already have discussed the first two, let’s move on to the other hearsay exceptions in which the availability of the declarant is immaterial:

3. Statement about a then existing mental, emotional, or physical condition;

4. Statements to medical personnel for purposes of medical diagnosis (Yes, what you tell your doctor about a preexisting medical condition is admissible under this exception to the hearsay rule in a legal proceeding between you and your insurance company to determine whether coverage was properly denied);

5. Statements that were recorded to preserve recollection at a time when the declarant had knowledge of the event described, but has now forgotten (this exception happens more and more now, given how many years can pass between an incident and when a legal proceeding regarding that incident finally happens);

6. Records of regularly conducted business activity that were prepared as part of the business, as opposed to generated for purposes of litigation;

7. Absence of an entry in records kept in (6);

8. Public records and reports;

9. Records of vital statistics;

10. Absence of public record or entry;

11. Records of religious organizations;

12. Marriage, baptismal, and similar certificates;

13. Family records;

14. Records of documents affecting an interest in property;

15. Statements in documents affecting an interest in property;

16. Statements in ancient documents;

17. Market reports and commercial publications;

18. Learned treatises;

19. Reputation concerning personal or family history;

20. Reputation concerning boundaries or general history;

21. Reputation as to character;

22. Judgment as to previous conviction; and

23. Judgment as to personal, family, or general history or boundaries.

There are an additional 5 exceptions to the hearsay rule when the declarant is unavailable to testify and be questioned about the statement:

1. Former testimony, if the party, or predecessor in legal interest, against whom the statement is being offered had an opportunity and similar motive to develop the testimony by direct, cross, or redirect examination;

2. Statement under belief of impending death concerning the cause of circumstances of what the declarant believed to be impending death (e.g., the so-called dying declaration);

3. Statement against interest (i.e., a statement which was at the time of its making so far contrary to the declarant’s pecuniary or proprietary interest, or so far tended to subject the declarant to civil or criminal liability, or to render invalid a claim by the declarant against another, that a reasonable person in the declarant’s position would not have made the statement unless believing it to be true. By the way, regarding the Troy Davis legal case: a statement tending to expose the declarant to criminal liability and offered to exculpate the accused is not admissible unless corroborating circumstances clearly indicate the trustworthiness of the statement);

4. Statement of personal or family history; and

5. Forfeiture by wrongdoing (i.e., a statement offered against a party that has engaged in or acquiesced in wrongdoing that was intended to, and did, procure the unavailability of the declarant as a witness).

Y’all can look up these rules on line for further information. Once again, the rules are FRE 801 defining hearsay, FRE 802 which says hearsay is not admissible except under these rules, FRE 803 which list 23 exceptions where hearsay is admissible regardless if the declarant is available to testify, and FRE 804, which lists 5 exceptions where hearsay is admissible, if the declarant is not available to testify.

Again, the states apply substantially the same rules in state courts and they follow the same numbering system, which makes it easy to find the corresponding state rule and compare the two.

Finally, never forget that a statement by a declarant that is NOT offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement is NOT hearsay!

Cross posted at my website and at the Smirking Chimp.


Who Says? Hear Says! Exceptions, That Is

October 23, 2011

Philosophical thought for the day: A rule is not a rule without exceptions, and there are no exceptions, damnit!

Good afternoon class.

Welcome to Hearsay 103.

There are so many exceptions to the hearsay rule that one might almost say the exceptions have swallowed the rule. I will discuss several of them in some detail and merely list the others because they do not come up all that often and they are not difficult to understand. For future reference, you can find them listed in rules 803 and 804 of the Federal Rules of Evidence, which are cited as FRE 803 and FRE 804. By the way, most of the states have adopted the Federal Rules of Evidence with minor changes and they use the same numbering system. Most of the minor changes are due to a state modifying the federal rule in order to retain the rule or a favored part of the rule that the state used to follow. For your information, the rules of evidence were promulgated by the various supreme courts pursuant to their rule making authority under the state constitutions. For the most part, judges and lawyers in all state and federal courts play with the same set of evidentiary rules and that is a good thing.

As I pointed out in our first class regarding the hearsay rule, the rule is designed to exclude unreliable evidence. Why bother? you might ask. The answer is that all of the rules are designed to filter the evidence that jurors get to hear so that they will not place undue emphasis or reliance on evidence that has little weight or importance. Put another way, judges and lawyers do not trust jurors, so they want to censor what they get to consider. The hearsay rule is a good example.

Recall our example in the first class involving the hapless Peter Piper who will never get to pick his fabled peck of pickled peppers due to Igor Ivarson’s storming rampage through the red light slamming Mr. Piper’s immortal soul through the uprights of heaven leaving his fractured mortal coil bereft and alone in a puddle of blood in the crosswalk of life. Ah, yes. T’was a pity, indeed.

So, we had B, let’s give him a name and call him Beauregard, shall we? Okay, and let’s also give A a name and call her Amanda. So, Beauregard is on the witness stand and the prosecutor asks him,

“What if anything did Amanda say to you at dinner about something that happened at the intersection?”

But for the hearsay objection by defense counsel that any reasonably conscious and sentient judge would have sustained because the answer is offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement, Amanda would have answered,

“Igor Ivarson ran right through the red light and hit Peter Piper in the crosswalk.”

You see, judges and lawyers fear that, if jurors heard the answer, they might place undue emphasis on the un-cross-examined statement of a witness who never actually testified. How can they reasonably and reliably assess Amanda’s credibility by listening to Beauregard drone on about dinner with Amanda?

Enough said.

Now, let’s tweak our fact pattern so that we remove Amanda and Beauregard from their cozy repast at their intimate restaurant and place them together at the intersection with Beauregard talking to his wife on his cell phone while staring at the sky when Igor Ivarson hits the unfortunate Peter Piper. He does not see the accident, but Amanda does. She utters a scream and says, “Oh my God. Igor Ivarson ran the red light and hit Peter Piper in the crosswalk.”

Flash forward to trial again with Beauregard on the stand and the prosecutor now asks,

“When you were standing on the corner of the intersection talking on your cell phone, what, if anything, did you hear Amanda say?”

Assume you are defense counsel and you stand up and say, “Objection, your Honor. The question calls for hearsay.”

What happens?

Well, I’ll tell you what happens.

The judge says: “Objection overruled. You may close your mouth and sit down, counsel.”

Saying, “But Judge. Professor Masoninblue says that’s hearsay because its offered to prove the truth of the matter and besides, we all know that we don’t trust juries, right Judge?” will not help you.

Welcome to the first two and likely most often used exceptions to the hearsay rule: Present Sense Impression and Excited Utterance.

FRE 803(1) defines a Present Sense Impression as follows:

A statement describing or explaining an event or condition made while the declarant was perceiving the event, or condition, or immediately thereafter.

FRE 803(2) defines an Excited Utterance as follows:

A statement relating to a startling event or condition while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition.

Amanda’s statement is admissible hearsay under both the present sense impression and excited utterance exceptions to the hearsay rule.

Why make an exception for these two types of statements and not the statement during the conversation at dinner?

Because the declarant, Amanda, was “describing or explaining an event or condition while [she] was perceiving the event”, and she was “under the stress of excitement caused by the event.” Her statement was an immediate reaction to the accident. She did not have an opportunity to reflect, reconsider, and possibly change or even forget her statement. For that reason, her statement is regarded as sufficiently accurate and reliable to be admitted into evidence, even if she does not testify and is not subject to cross examination.

In fact the availability of the declarant to testify at a hearing or trial is immaterial to all of the 23 exceptions to the hearsay rule that are listed in FRE 803.

I see that we are at 1000 words, so we have reached the end of today’s class and we’ll have to continue our study of the exceptions to the hearsay rule tomorrow.

Time flies when you’re having fun.

Cross posted at my website and the Smirking Chimp.


Hearsay, Part Deaux: Frog Gravy Legal Case

October 23, 2011

Good afternoon, class.

Now that you are experts regarding what constitutes hearsay, let’s take a look at an interesting issue in Crane-Station’s case.

The arresting officer, McCracken County Sheriff’s Deputy Eddie McGuire testified at her Preliminary Hearing that, after she was thoroughly searched at the roadside by a female officer who did not find any contraband or paraphernalia, he arrested her for DUI, handcuffed her with her hands behind her back, placed her in the backseat of his patrol vehicle, and transported her to Lourdes Hospital in Paducah for a blood draw. As he was assisting her to get out of the backseat at the hospital, she told him that her watch had fallen off her wrist during the ride and it slipped beyond her reach behind the seat. She asked him to please retrieve it, which he agreed to do.

When the returned to his vehicle after the blood draw, he unlocked the back door, pulled the seat forward, and reached beneath it to grab the watch. When he handed her the watch, he also showed her a small crumb-like object and said, “Sure looks like heroin to me.”

He also testified that he field tested the substance after he took her to jail and it tested negative for the presence of heroin. He said he did not field test it for cocaine because “We knew all along it would be crack.”

In the trial judge’s chambers before jury selection on the first day of the trial, the prosecutor asked the trial judge to prohibit the defense from mentioning during jury selection and opening statement her statement about her watch and her request to retrieve it on the ground that the statements were inadmissible hearsay unless he offered them into evidence as an admission by a party opponent, which he did not intend to do. He also asked the judge to prohibit the defense from attempting to introduce her statements into evidence during the trial or to mention them in closing argument.

The trial judge agreed despite defense counsel’s objection.

To make matters more bizarre, Deputy McGuire changed his testimony regarding how he retrieved the watch. Without mentioning her statements, of course, he said he saw her watch and the rock together in the seatbelt crack in plain view on the seat beside her before he helped her to get out of the backseat after they arrived at the hospital.

When her attorney attempted to confront him on cross examination with the deputy’s prior inconsistent testimony under oath at the Preliminary Hearing, the prosecutor objected and the trial judge sustained the objection.

In closing argument, the prosecutor argued that she had not explained why her watch was in plain view next to the rock of crack in the seatbelt crack right beside her. Not surprisingly, the jury convicted her of possessing the rock of crack and tampering with evidence (i.e., attempting to conceal it in the seatbelt crack).

Now, let’s analyze her statements. To determine if they were hearsay, we begin by asking if the defense would have offered them to prove the truth of the matters asserted in her statements.

Answer: No, because they would have been offered to show that in response to something she said, he pulled the seat forward to look for her watch and that is when he found it, handed it to her, and produced the crumb-like substance that by his own admission he “knew all along was going to be crack.”

Notice that phrased this way, it is clear that what she actually said was not important. The point is she said something and whatever it was, it prompted him to pull the seat forward and look under it where he found her watch and the crumb-like object. That is, they were not in plain view and we know that because he testified at the Preliminary Hearing under oath that that is how he found the watch and the rock.

Whenever the actual words in a statement do not matter, as is the case here, the statement necessarily is not being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. Make a note of this and remember it because it is very important.

Not only were her statements admissible, the deputy’s previous testimony under oath at the Preliminary Hearing was admissible to impeach his testimony about finding her watch and the rock together in plain view beside her.

The prosecutor’s incredibly sleazy closing argument commenting on her failure to explain why her watch and the rock were together in plain view, when he persuaded the trial judge to prohibit her from providing that explanation, was an atrocious improper comment on her court ordered silence.

Finally, the trial judge’s evidentiary rulings prevented her from putting on a defense in violation of her Fifth, Sixth, and 14th Amendment rights.

Namaste

Cross posted at my blog and the Smirking Chimp.

Author’s Note: Due to the length of this essay, I have decided to discuss the rest of the hearsay rule in Part 3 tomorrow.


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