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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Avoiding A Confrontation: Supreme Court Of Minnesota Notes That Co-Conspirator Admissions Aren't Testimonial

Similar to federal counterpart, Minnesota Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(E) provides that

A statement is not hearsay if...[t]he statement is offered against a party and is...a statement by a coconspirator of the party. In order to have a coconspirator's declaration admitted, there must be a showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, (i) that there was a conspiracy involving both the declarant and the party against whom the statement is offered, and (ii) that the statement was made in the course of and in furtherance of the conspiracy.

Meanwhile, in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), the Supreme Court found that that the Confrontation Clause of the U.S. Constitution is violated when hearsay is "testimonial," admitted against a criminal defendant, and the hearsay declarant does not testify at the defendant's trial, unless (1) the declarant was unavailable for trial, and (2) the defendant was previously able to cross-examine the declarant. In State v. Larson, 2010 WL 3430866 (Minn. 2010), the defendant appealed from his murder conviction, claiming, inter alia, that the trial court erred in allowing the prosecutor to admit co-conspirator admissions made by available declarants who did not testify at his trial. The Supreme Court of Minnesota correctly disagreed.

In Larson, Robert Larson and his sister, Jamie, were convicted of murder in separate trials based upon their alleged killing of Jamie's boyfriend, Thomas John Cady, Jr.  At trial, the district court issued an order permitting the State to introduce testimony regarding discussions between Larson and Jamie and statements made by Jamie and Dan Iacarella, Robert's cousin, as substantive evidence on the grounds that it was co-conspirator nonhearsay. At trial, the prosecution called neither Jamie nor Iacarella to testify at Robert's trial despite both being available to testify.

After he was convicted, Robert appealed. Robert did not dispute that the subject statements constituted co-conspirator admissions, but he did contend that their admission violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause. The Supreme Court of Minnesota disagreed, finding that

For a statement to implicate the Confrontation Clause, it must be testimonial....We have explained that "statements made to non-government questioners who are not acting in concert with or as agents of the government are considered nontestimonial."...The co-conspirator statements introduced at Larson's trial arose in discussions amongst friends and acquaintances, not during police interrogations, and were not made for the purpose of establishing facts potentially relevant for a future criminal prosecution. These statements therefore are not testimonial and their admission does not implicate Larson's confrontation rights....Accordingly, we hold that the district court did not err in admitting these statements.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2010/09/co-conspirator-state-v-larson-nw2d-2010-wl-3430866minn2010.html

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