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

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

Disinterested?: Court Of Appeals Of Texas Finds Statement Regarding "Burned Or Dirty" Gun Inadmissible As Statement Against Interest

Texas Rule of Evidence 803(24) provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for

A statement which was at the time of its making so far contrary to the declarant's pecuniary or proprietary interest, or so far tended to subject the declarant to civil or criminal liability, or to render invalid a claim by the declarant against another, or to make the declarant an object of hatred, ridicule, or disgrace, that a reasonable person in declarant's position would not have made the statement unless believing it to be true. In criminal cases, a statement tending to expose the declarant to criminal liability is not admissible unless corroborating circumstances clearly indicate the trustworthiness of the statement.

A defendant is charged with capital murder based upon the victim being shot to death. Part of his defense is that an alternate suspect committed the crime. To prove that the alternate suspect committed the crime, the defendant seeks to introduce testimony that, two weeks after the victim's death, the alternate suspect sought to sell a gun to another individual. When the other individual asked whether the gun was "burned or dirty," the alternate suspect responded, "Yeah, I just did something good." Should this statement qualify as a statement against interest? According to the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Texas, Houston, in its recent opinion in Ramirez v. State, 2010 WL 2306112 (Tex.App.-Hous. [1 Dist. 2010]), the answer is "no." I disagree.

In Ramirez, the facts were as listed above, with Jorge Alberto Ramirez being the defendant and Noel Alvarez being the alternate suspect. Specifically, Ramirez

sought to establish that Alvarez, two weeks after the murder of the complainant, while offering to sell to [Gabriel] Guzman a .380 handgun, laughingly told Guzman, "Yeah, I just did something good" in response to Guzman's inquiry as to whether the handgun was "burned or dirty." After the State objected to the evidence, the trial court ruled that "everything comes in except, 'I just did something good.'" It explained "[t]hat's so vague, it's not even-that's not an admission." 

After he was convicted, Ramirez appealed, claiming that Alvarez's statement should have been admissible under Texas Rule of Evidence 803(24) because "this statement indicated that Alvarez had 'used [the handgun] in a crime' and made it 'more likely' that Alvarez was involved in the murder of the complainant or 'another crime' or 'anything.'" The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that "Alvarez's statement to Guzman that 'I just did something good' is vague in that it could not expose Alvarez to criminal liability for the complainant's death or any specific criminal act."

Really? So, the court is saying that if Alvarez were charged with murder, his statement "Yeah, I just did something good" in response to a question about whether the gun was "burned or dirty" would not have been used by the prosecution/jury to help establish Alvarez's guilt? I admit that the statement was somewhat vague in that it did not indicate that Alvarez used the gun to shoot the victim, but it seems pretty clear based upon the Q & A that Alvarez did something bad with the gun. And that's all that is required for a statement to qualify as a statement against interest. Such a statement does not have to conclusively establish the declarant's guilt. It merely has to be a statement that could be used with other evidence to establish his guilt. It thus seems to me that the Court of Appeals committed serious error.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2010/06/against-penal--ramirez-v-statenot-reported-in-sw3d-2010-wl-2306112texapp-hous-1-dist2010.html

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