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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Car And Driver: Court Of Appeals Of Texas Lays Out Corroborating Circumstances Test For Statements 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.

So, when do the corroborating circumstances clearly indicate the trustworthiness of the statement? That was the question addressed by the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Texas, Amarillo, in Rodriguez v. State, 2010 WL 4628580 (Tex.App.-Amarillo 2010).

In Rodriguez, Jose Angel Rodriguez, was convicted by a jury of evading arrest or detention. Rodriguez claimed that while he was in a car that pulled over in response to police cruiser but then drove up; he claimed, though, that he was merely a passenger, with Eric Mendoza being the driver. At trial, Rodriguez attempted to support this claim by calling

his great-grandmother, Juanita Rodriguez, to testify about a telephone conversation she had with Mendoza two months earlier. Before she could testify concerning Mendoza's statements, the State objected to the testimony as hearsay. In response to the State's objection, [Jose] contended the statement was admissible as a statement against interest. Outside the presence of the jury, Rodriguez testified that she had a telephone conversation with Mendoza, who had called to speak to Jose. Rodriguez stated: "He [Mendoza] told me that he was driving. My son was asleep beside him, but he got scared and jumped to the back when he was stopped."

The trial court, however, precluded this testimony, finding that while Mendoza's alleged statement would have been a statement against interest, there were not corroborating circumstances clearly indicating the trustworthiness of the statement. In reviewing this issue on appeal, the Court of Appeals of Texas, Amarillo, found that the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas has identified a number of factors that are relevant to this inquiry:

(1) whether the guilt of the declarant is inconsistent with the guilt of the defendant; (2) whether the declarant was so situated that he might have committed the crime; (3) the timing of the declaration; (4) the spontaneity of the declaration; (5) the relationship between the declarant and the party to whom the statement was made; and (6) the existence of independent corroborative facts.

In applying these factors to the case before it, the court found that

Mendoza's statement was against his penal interest and, with Appellant's upcoming trial, it is not unreasonable to assume he anticipated that his statement would be disclosed to authorities or the trial court. In addition, Mendoza was in a position where he could have committed the crime and his guilt would have necessarily precluded Appellant's guilt. Furthermore, Appellant's own trial testimony corroborates Mendoza's statement.

On the other hand, Mendoza had no relationship, familial or otherwise, with Appellant's great-grandmother and his statement lacked spontaneity because it was purportedly made in response to a query from Appellant's great-grandmother regarding Mendoza's reluctance to testify at her great-grandson's upcoming trial. Furthermore, the trustworthiness of the statement was directly attacked by Officer Taylor's testimony that he had seen Appellant exit and enter his car on the driver's side at a convenience store shortly before the offense occurred. In addition, the trustworthiness of the statement was controverted by Deputy Valdez's testimony that, as he approached the car at the second stop, he observed Appellant slide over from the driver's seat to the front passenger seat and Mendoza move from the front passenger seat to the backseat. Furthermore, that Appellant had been driving the car was consistent with his ownership interest in the vehicle. In addition, Appellant's testimony that he was asleep for two hours immediately prior to the second stop was contradicted by Officer Taylor's testimony that less than two hours prior to the second stop, he observed the car empty and later observed Appellant exiting and entering the driver's side of the car at a convenience store.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2010/11/against-interest-jose-angel-rodriguez-appellant-v-the-state-of-texas-appellee-sw3d-2010-wl-4628580texapp-ama.html

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