Thursday, March 19, 2009
Like A Virgin (Islands' Opinion)?: Supreme Court of V.I. Finds 1953 Uniform Rules Of Evidence Apply In Criminal Trials
The 1953 Uniform Rules of Evidence were kind of like Betamax or HD DVD: they just never really caught on and were eventually supplanted by a better competitor. See Michael Teter, Acts of Emotion: Analyzing Congressional Involvement in the Federal Rules of Evidence, 58 Cath. U. L. Rev. 153, 158 (2008). For the Uniform Rules of Evidence, the competitor was the Federal Rules of Evidence, and the Uniform Rules of Evidence raised he white flag in 1974 when they were amended to be "nearly identical to the then-proposed Federal Rules of Evidence." Deirdre M. Smith, An Uncertain Privilege: Implied Waiver and the Evisceration of the Psychotherapist-Patient Privilege in the Federal Courts, 58 DePaul L. Rev. (2008). The Uniform Rules of Evidence were amended again in 1999 (and again in 2005) but I'm not sure that many people noticed; for most intents an purposes, the Federal Rules of Evidence are the only game in town.
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...one of identification of a person made after perceiving the person.
“direct[ed] all Article III courts and congressionally-created courts in United States territories, including the District Court of the Virgin Islands,” to “use the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure in their criminal proceedings...." Because Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 26 "mandate[d] that courts using the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure are obligated to use the Federal Rules of Evidence as well," the commentary to the Uniform Rules "conclude[d] that the Uniform Rules cannot apply in criminal matters in the Virgin Islands."
though Rule 54 "directly allude[d] to the District Court of the Virgin Islands, it d[id] not mention the [Superior] Court of the Virgin Islands or any other local court...." Thus, while "the District Court of the Virgin Islands must rely upon the Federal Rules to resolve its evidentiary quandaries, no such compulsion prevents the [Superior] Court of the Virgin Islands from relying upon the evidentiary code that was adopted by the Legislature...." Furthermore, "[w]hen originally made, the editor’s comment that the Uniform Rules do not apply to criminal actions in the Virgin Islands was technically correct as, at that time, all criminal cases were tried in the District Court...." The District Court’s exclusive jurisdiction over criminal cases arising under either federal or local law lasted until 1984, when Congress, through an amendment to the Revised Organic Act of 1954..., bestowed concurrent jurisdiction to the Superior Court—then known as the Territorial Court—over criminal offenses arising out of violations of local law."
Title 5, section 932 of the Virgin Islands Code defines hearsay and exceptions, in part, as:
Evidence of a statement which is made other than by a witness while testifying at the hearing offered to prove the truth of the matter stated is hearsay evidence and inadmissible except:(1) Previous statements of persons present and subject to cross-examination. A statement previously made by a person who is present at the hearing and available for cross-examination with respect to the statement and its subject matter, provided the statement would be admissible if made by declarant while testifying as a witness.
An interpreter is subject to the provisions of these rules relating to qualification as an expert and the administration of an oath or affirmation to make a true translation.