EvidenceProf Blog

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

Sunday, August 1, 2010

No Residual Value: Eighth Circuit Rejects Defendant's Argument That His Exculpatory Statement Was Admissible Under Residual Exception

Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(A) indicates that

A statement is not hearsay if...[t]he statement is offered against a party and is...the party's own statement, in either an individual or a

Of course, as the text of the Rule makes clear, the Rule only covers statements offered against a party, such as a defendant's incriminatory statements admitted against him by the prosecution. Conversely, the Rule does not cover statements offered by a party, such as a defendant's exculpatory statements offered by him at his criminal trial.  And, as the recent opinion of the Eighth Circuit in United States v. McCraney, 2010 WL 2852970 (8th Cir. 2010), makes clear, such statements are also unlikely to be admissible under the residual exception to the rule against hearsay.

In McCraney, Adrian McCraney and Kennie Williams were each convicted by a jury of possession of cocaine base with intent to distribute, robbery in violation of the Hobbs Act, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The jury also found McCraney guilty of possession of a firearm as a convicted felon. At trial, the evidence presented by the prosecution established, inter alia, that

Kennie Williams made arrangements to buy four ounces of cocaine from a drug dealer named Larry Jones. The two agreed to meet in the parking lot of the Super Wal-Mart in Coralville, Iowa, late in the evening on August 29 to conduct the transaction. Jones entered Williams's vehicle and handed Williams a one-ounce package of cocaine to inspect. Jones testified that Williams "started kind of fidgeting with [the package] ... and discussing how he didn't think that it looked right."

As Jones tried to convince Williams to complete the deal, Adrian McCraney entered the vehicle on the passenger side and seated himself behind Jones. Jones was startled by McCraney's appearance, but Williams "said it was okay, that it was his cousin." McCraney began to question whether Jones was an undercover police officer, and while Jones was responding to McCraney, Williams kept fidgeting with the one package of cocaine. A Motorola phone box containing the rest of the cocaine remained in Jones's lap.

Suddenly, McCraney reached over the top of the seat in front of him and put a gun to Jones's chest. While Jones was held at gunpoint, Williams rifled through his belongings. Williams took the box with the remaining cocaine and emptied Jones's pockets, seizing Jones's ID, all of his money, a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, and a cell phone.

McCraney and Williams eventually permitted Jones to leave the vehicle, and then sped out of the parking lot with Williams driving. Jones followed on his motorcycle, but soon abandoned the pursuit and called 911 to report the robbery.

At trial, Williams sought to present evidence that, after he was arrested in connection with the crime, he made a declaration to police

that he did not know anything about the robbery of Jones prior to when it occurred, that he was taken by surprise when McCraney entered the car and pulled out a gun, that after the robbery McCraney instructed him to drive away from the parking lot, and that McCraney then put the gun to Williams's head and told him to keep driving while the police pursued them.

The district court, however, deemed this evidence inadmissible hearsay. After he was convicted, Williams appealed, claiming, inter alia, that this evidence was admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 807, the residual exception, which provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for

A statement not specifically covered by Rule 803 or 804 but having equivalent circumstantial guarantees of trustworthiness, is not excluded by the hearsay rule, if the court determines that (A) the statement is offered as evidence of a material fact; (B) the statement is more probative on the point for which it is offered than any other evidence which the proponent can procure through reasonable efforts; and (C) the general purposes of these rules and the interests of justice will best be served by admission of the statement into evidence. However, a statement may not be admitted under this exception unless the proponent of it makes known to the adverse party sufficiently in advance of the trial or hearing to provide the adverse party with a fair opportunity to prepare to meet it, the proponent's intention to offer the statement and the particulars of it, including the name and address of the declarant.

According to Williams,

a statement given by an uncounseled arrestee who is under interrogation by law enforcement officers bears sufficient indicia of trustworthiness to warrant admission under Rule 807, because the very purpose of police interrogation is to obtain truthful statements that can be used to further an investigation.

The Eighth Circuit disagreed, finding that

The district court disagreed that the circumstances surrounding Williams's statement adequately guaranteed its reliability. The court ruled the statement identifying McCraney as the mastermind of the robbery was not admissible under Rule 807, because "[i]t does not bear indicia of trustworthiness for somebody to sit down and write out a statement that essentially implicates somebody else." We agree with this sensible conclusion. Williams was arrested after leading police on a highspeed chase. The police found a cell phone belonging to the robbery victim on his person and located cocaine and accessories to a handgun in his car. Williams could not plausibly deny altogether that he had participated in the robbery and subsequent flight, so he had clear motivation to present himself as an unwitting and unwilling participant. The district court did not abuse its discretion in ruling that a statement made under these circumstances is not sufficiently trustworthy to be admitted into evidence under Rule 807.



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