Saturday, February 21, 2009

If You Die After You Make A Statement About A Crime Will A Jury Be Allowed To Know About It?

In at least one scenario in Iowa the answer is yes according to the Iowa Supreme Court. The jury was properly allowed to know about the victim's statement shortly after she (Holly Michael) was found by firefighters. The victim had been raped, bound and a fire had been set around her.

The testimony given at the trial of Sessions Harper about the victim's statements was ruled to be admissible and not banned as hearsay or because it denied the defendant the right to cross examine the person who made the statement.

From Evidence Prof Blog:

The recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Iowa in State v. Harper, 2009 WL 277087 (Iowa 2009), provides a nice (but disturbing) illustration of something that I teach my Evidence students: Statements falling under the dying declaration exception to the rule against hearsay also often fall under the excited utterance exception (and also the less useful medical treatment/diagnosis exception). [...]

At the emergency room, a hospital staff member heard Michael say "I think I'm going to die." An x-ray technician also heard Michael say, "please don't kill me" and "Harper did it, Harper did it." Furthermore,

One of the treating physicians initially thought Michael was dead based on the severity of her burns. After he discovered she was alive and conscious, he asked her what had happened. She said that Sessions Harper had raped her, tied her, and set her house on fire. The doctor asked her to repeat what she had said, and Michael again said that Sessions Harper had raped her, tied her, and set her house on fire. Another physician treating Michael also heard what she had said. Based upon Michael's statements, a doctor performed a rape kit examination. Another attending physician treating Michael asked her who had done this, and Michael replied "Sessions Harper. He tied me up, raped me, and left me in the basement."

Eighteen days after the incident, Michael died from complications from the burns and inhalation injuries. Harper was thereafter arrested and charged with first-degree sexual abuse, kidnapping, murder, and arson. After he was found guilty on all charges based in large part on the testimony of the above medical service providers, Harper appealed, claiming, inter alia, that Michael's statements were inadmissible hearsay and/or admitted in violation of his rights under the Confrontation Clause.

Thankfully Harper's appeal was unsuccessful and EvidenceProf explains in detail why this victim's statement was admissible under 2 exceptions to the ban on hearsay evidence because what she said was both a dying declaration and an excited utterance.

The court ruled that the victim's statements were not testimonial and therefore Harper hadn't been denied his right to confront the person making testimony against him.

If, however, she had filed an order for protection and been interviewed by police where she told them that Harper had threatened to rape her, tie her up in her basement and set her home on fire that testimony wouldn't have been admissible even though that testimony would have been relevant. This unfortunately rewards criminals who murder those who have testified against them and for that reason alone there needs to be a review of the evidence rules in this area.

If the Iowa Supreme Court had ruled that these statements by the victim were inadmissible then that would have indicated to me that Iowa's rules of evidence would need to be changed. If this appeal had been successful if it had occurred in any other jurisdiction that that jurisdiction then the rules of evidence need to be changed in that jurisdiction.


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 10:19 AM   0 comments links to this post


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