Monday, November 19, 2007
Sketch Artist: Virginia Court To Resolve Whether Crime Scene Sketch Constitutes Inadmissible Hearsay
Last year, Lieben Marie Patrick was found guilty of attempted murder after she hit a 3 year-old girl and another woman, Angela Amos, with her car. According to the evidence at trial, Patrick went to Amos' home on Christmas Eve, and the two immediately started fighting. Patrick then refused to leave Amos' home, which led to Amos walking out of her house; she eventually came upon Rosanna Orange and three of her children near the top of a hill. Allegedly, Patrick then left Amos' house in her car, struck Amos, struck Orange's then 3 year-old daughter, backed up over the girl, and then fled the scene. Patrick's attorney contended that Patrick was struggling with the gearshift and didn't see Amos or the girl until it was too late.
At Patrick's trial, she claimed that a statement by Amos that she was near the edge of the road when she was struck conflicted with Orange's testimony that Patrick drove as much as six feet from the edge of the road to strike her daughter. Furthermore, over her attorney's objection, the trial judge allowed into evidence a sketch that a police officer made of the crime scene based upon Orange's statements about where her daughter was struck. Specifically, her attorney claimed that this sketch was hearsay because the officer did not view the "crime scene" and that the prosecution improperly relied upon the officer's credibility to back up the sketch rather than Orange's testimony alone. Now, Patrick is arguing these points on appeal.
I think that Patrick's argument might have merit. Virginia courts have held that when a victim describes his or her assailant to an officer who creates a composite sketch, the sketch is not hearsay because it does not constitute a "statement" but instead is similar to a photograph. See Harrison v. Commonwealth, 384 S.E.2d 813, 815 (Va. App. 1989). However, while I was unable to find any Virginia cases directly on point, most courts treat crime scene sketches differently.
Thus, for instance, in State v. Randolph, 462 A.2d 1011 (Conn. 1983), the Supreme Court of Connecticut was faced with the question of whether a police officer's sketch of a crime scene that he made based upon a witness' memory of the scene was admissible. The court found that "[a] sketch that is drawn up based upon a witness' personal observation and which is introduced through that witness who is competent to identify and explain its contents would not be hearsay assuming the sketch is being introduced in order to illustrate or explain the witness' in-court testimony." Id. at 1017 (emphasis added). On the other hand, such a sketch could not be introduced through the testimony of the police officer because in such a case it would be offered to prove the truth/accuracy of the sketch rather than to explain the witness' testimony. See id.
It is a little bit unclear from the article discussing Patrick's case how the "crime scene" sketch was introduced into evidence, but it appears that it was introduced at least partially through the testimony of the police officer. If this were the case, the trial court's decision would have been erroneous. If, however, the sketch were introduced through and used to illustrate Orange's testimony, the trial court's decision would have been proper.