Thursday, July 14, 2011
Maintaining Consistency: Court Of Appeals Of Minnesota Finds "Reasonably Consistent" Prior Statement Qualifies As Prior Consistent Statement
Minnesota Rule of Evidence 801(d)(1)(B) provides that
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...consistent with the declarant's testimony and helpful to the trier of fact in evaluating the declarant's credibility as a witness....
But does a prior statement have to be essentially the same as the declarant's testimony to qualify as a prior consistent statement, or can there be (minor) discrepancies? According to the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Minnesota in State v. Standifer, 2011 WL 2672025 (Minn.App. 2011), the statements can differ as long as they are "reasonably consistent."
In Standifer, Pen Dwaine Standifer was charged with three counts of criminal sexual conduct in February 2009 based on allegations that he sexually abused his foster child, A.R.F. At trial, A.R.F. testified concerning this sexual abuse, and Susan Carstens, a juvenile specialist from the Crystal Police Department, later testified about her interview with A.R.F. after the assault.
After he was convicted, Standifer appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the trial court erred in admitting Carstens' testimony under Rule 801(d)(1)(B) because A.R.F.'s statements to her were inconsistent with A.R.F.'s testimony at trial. Specifically, he claimed that
A.R.F.'s prior statements included some additional facts about what occurred before the abuse that made A.R.F. uncomfortable. For example, Carstens testified that A.R.F. told her that appellant had guns all over the house; but at trial, A.R.F. testified only that he was afraid that appellant had a gun in his hand during the abuse.
But according to the Court of Appeals of Minnesota, a prior statement is "consistent" with trial testimony for Rule 801(d)(1)(B) purposes as long as it is "reasonably consistent" with the witness' trial testimony. Conversely, a prior statement is not "consistent for Rule 801(d)(1)(B) purposes when additional or different facts in the prior statement affect the elements of the offense or add inflammatory information. Concluding that the additional/different facts in A.R.F.'s statement to Carstens did neither of these things, the Court of Appeals of Minnesota affirmed.
(It is also interesting to note that Minnesota allows for the admission of prior consistent statements as long as they are helpful to the trier of fact while Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(1)(B) only allows for their admission when "offered to rebut an express or implied charge against the declarant of recent fabrication or improper influence or motive....")