EvidenceProf Blog

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

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Suicidal Tendencies?: Court Of Appeals Of Maryland Finds Statement 1 Month Before Death Admissible Under State Of Mind Exception

A defendant is charged with murder. At trial, he seeks to present evidence that approximately 30 days prior to his death, the alleged victim said to a state trooper who placed him under arrest for a DUI, "I don't need this in my life at this point." The defendant claims that this statement was relevant to prove the alleged victim's suicidal state of mind. Should the statement qualify for admission under the state of mind exception to the rule against hearsay? According to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, the answer is "no." According to the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Maryland in State v. Smith, 2011 WL 5924338 (Md. 2011), that decision was an abuse of discretion.

In Smith, the facts were as stated above, with Maryland Rule of Evidence 5-803(b)(3) providing an exception to the rule against hearsay for

A statement of the declarant's then existing state of mind, emotion, sensation, or physical condition (such as intent, plan, motive, design, mental feeling, pain, and bodily health), offered to prove the declarant's then existing condition or the declarant's future action, but not including a statement of memory or belief to prove the fact remembered or believed unless it relates to the execution, revocation, identification, or terms of declarant's will.

In finding that the trial court erred by excluding the alleged victim's statement because of the nearly 30 day gap between his statement and his death, the Court of Appeals of Maryland concluded that

where possible suicide is an issue, remoteness of evidence, under Maryland Rule 5-803(b)(3), bearing on the deceased's state of mind, must be determined under all of the circumstances. Consequently, it was error for the circuit court to apply, based simply on the lapse of time, a limitation of thirty days preceding [the alleged victim]'s death to the admissibility of [the witness]'s testimony.

Instead, according to the court,

If a person, on day one, is angry enough to intend to shoot another person, it may well be that, because of the cooling off effect of the passage of time, a shooting occurring thirty days later may not manifest a continuation of that intent. We are not persuaded, however, that that rationale applies when the inquiry is the motive for suicide. The latter determination necessarily must consider all of the circumstances bearing on the victim's psyche



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