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Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Thy Son And Daughters True: False Imprisonment Appeal Reveals Broadness Of Minnesota's Prior Consistent Statement Rule

The recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Minnesota in State v. Samuel, 2009 WL 170772 (Minn.App. 2009), reveals that Minnesota's prior consistent statement rule, Minnesota Rule of Evidence 801(d)(1)(B), is much broader than its federal counterpart, Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(1)(B).  And the consequence of that difference was that a statement that would have been inadmissible under the federal rule was admissible under the Minnesota rule in Samuel.

In Samuel, a jury found Meron Samuel not guilty of charges of burglary and criminal sexual conduct, but guilty of false imprisonment based upon an encounter in an apartment building during a late-night party.  BD was the alleged victim of Samuel's criminal sexual conduct and one of the alleged victims of his false imprisonment.  After the late-night party, BD gave a recorded police statement in which she claimed that Samuel committed acts of sexual assault and false imprisonment against her, and she later provided testimony consistent with that statement at trial.  Then, without defense counsel claiming that BD had recently fabricated her testimony or that her testimony was based upon an improper motive or influence, the prosecution introduced into evidence BD's recorded police statement.

On appeal, Samuel claimed, inter alia, that the trial court erred in admitting BD's recorded police statement as a prior consistent statement.  And if his case were being heard under the Federal Rules of Evidence, he would have been correct.  Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(1)(B) indicates that:

     "A statement is not hearsay if...[t]he declarant testifies at the trial or hearing and is subject to cross-examination concerning the statement, and the statement is....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."

Minnesota Rule of Evidence 801(d)(1)(B), however, indicates that:

     "A statement is not hearsay if...[t]he declarant testifies at the trial or hearing and is subject to cross-examination concerning the statement, and the statement is....consistent with the declarant's testimony and helpful to the trier of fact in evaluating the declarant's credibility as a witness."

And the 1989 Committee Comment to Minnesota Rule of Evidence 801 makes clear that this difference in language is not merely a stylistic deviation but an intentional substantive departure from the Federal Rule.  According to the Committee Comment,

     "As amended, Rule 801(d)(1)(B) permits prior consistent statements of a witness to be received as substantive evidence if they are helpful to the trier of fact in evaluating the credibility of the witness. Originally, Rule 801(d)(1)(B) applied only to statements that were offered to rebut a charge of recent fabrication or undue influence or motive. The language of the original rule, if read literally, was too restrictive. For example, evidence of a prior consistent statement should be received as substantive evidence to rebut an inference of unintentional inaccuracy, even in the absence of any charge of fabrication or impropriety. Also, evidence of prompt complaint in sexual assault cases should be received as substantive evidence in the prosecution's case in chief, without the need for any showing that the evidence is being used to rebut a charge of 'recent fabrication or improper influence or motive.'"

And, as is clear from this last sentence, BD's prompt complaint of sexual assault was admissible without the need for any showing that it was being used to rebut a charge of recent fabrication or improper influence or motive.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2009/01/prior-consisten.html

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