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Monday, November 14, 2005

Ind. Decisions - Still more on Indiana hearsay/confrontation clause case to be heard by U.S. Supreme Court

The Peru Tribune has this story by Laurie Kiefaber on the Indiana confrontation clause decision, Hammon v. State (6/16/05 IndSCt), that will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this term. Some quotes from near the middle of the story:

While the case might seem insubstantial, being a misdemeanor case with a short sentence, the implications could be great, [Peru attorney Robert Spahr, who initially presented the case in Miami Circuit Court] said. If the decision on this case is upheld at the federal level, it's just a short step to felony cases.

At issue is the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the concepts of "excited utterance" and hearsay as evidence in court. The Sixth Amendment states "in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial ... (and) to be confronted with the witnesses against him ..."

During this trial, Hammon's accuser or witness did not show up for the trial. Brent Davis, Miami County prosecuting attorney in this case, said he did not know why the victim did not show up for the trial.

However, a police officer was allowed to repeat what the battery victim told him during the trial. His testimony was admitted as evidence, Spahr said, even though in previous cases this might have been considered "hearsay evidence," which is evidence based not on a witness's personal knowledge but on matters told him by another, according to "Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary."

What the victim told the police officer was termed an "excited utterance" in this case. An "excited utterance" is "a statement relating to a startling event or condition made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition," according to the "Indiana Rules of Evidence."

"For a hearsay statement to be admitted as an excited utterance three elements must be shown: (1) a startling event; (2) the declarant made the statement while under the stress of the excitement caused by the event; and (3) the statement relates to the event," according to the Indiana Supreme Court petition for transfer.

Even though the victim did not show up for trial and did not confront Hammon, as is usually done during a trial, the "excited utterance" was accepted into evidence by Burke.

"Admissibility turns on 'whether the statement was inherently reliable because the witness was under the stress of an event and unlikely to make deliberate falsifications,'" according to Indiana Supreme Court documents.

Spahr said this is unusual because in criminal cases there is a higher standard of proof for the prosecution.

"Personal liberty is at risk so there must be proof (of guilt) beyond a reasonable doubt," Spahr said. "... In the past (this type of evidence being accepted in court) had never happened in Miami County. If this is so new for Indiana, it hasn't happened anywhere.

"The ability to challenge memory and statements of alleged victims is a rather important part of the practice of criminal law," Spahr added.

See these earlier entries from 11/2/05 and 11/3/05.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on November 14, 2005 04:53 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions