EvidenceProf Blog

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

Monday, October 3, 2011

Disinterested: Supreme Court Of New Hampshire Finds Hearsay Error Of Trial Court Harmless In Murder Appeal

Similar to its its federal counterpart, New Hampshire Rule of Evidence 804(b)(3) 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, that a reasonable person in this position would not have made the statement unless the person believed it to be true....

As the recent opinion of the Supreme Court of New Hampshire in State v. Garcia, 2011 WL 4397490 (N.H. 2011), makes clear, however, if a trial court improperly precludes a defendant from presenting a statement against interest by another declarant that also implicates the defendant in the crime charged, an appellate court is likely to find harmless error.

In Garcia, Robinson Garcia was convicted of second-degree murder.

The defendant's convictions ar[o]se out of the August 11, 2005 beating of Stephen Raymond in Manchester. After Raymond's death in 2006, the defendant was charged with second-degree murder, in that, acting in concert with Larry Barbosa, he caused the death of Raymond under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life by striking Raymond in the head with a baseball bat. 

At trial, the court precluded Garcia from presenting letters allegedly written by Barbosa which had emboldened words, such as "I hit the dude with the bat," "he seen me with the bat," "I did it" and "he knew I did do this and he knows." The court also precluded Garcia from having a witness testify that Barbosa told her that he hit Raymond with a bat.

After he was convicted, Garcia appealed, claiming, inter alia, that these statements by Barbosa constituted statements against interest under New Hampshire Rule of Evidence 804(b)(3) and that the trialcourt erred in excluding.

The Supreme Court of New Hampshire assumed without deciding that the trial court erred in deeming these statements inadmissible hearsay. This was because the problem for Garcia was that the State's theory of the case was that Garcia handed the bat to Barbosa so that he could hit the victim with it. And because the State presented substantial evidence in support of this theory, any error committed by the trial court in excluding the statements was harmless because their admission would have hurt, not helped, Garcia's defense.



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