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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Monday, January 23, 2012

Bad Trip: Court Of Appeals Of Iowa Oddly Hedges On Issue Of Whether Statement Qualified As Present Sense Impression

Like its federal counterpart, Iowa Rule of Evidence 5.803(1) provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for

A statement describing or explaining an event or condition made while the declarant was perceiving the event or condition, or immediately thereafter.

So, let's say that a defendant is charged with second-degree murder and related charges. And let's say that at several points during trial, the prosecution introduces a hearsay statement that the defendant was on a "bad crack trip" at the time of the killing. Finally, let's say that, on appeal, the prosecutor himself conceded that the person making that statement had no information to suggest that the defendant actually used crack cocaine on that evening. Is there any chance that the statement qualified for admission as a present sense impression under Rule 5.803(1)? Well, let's take a look at the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Iowa in State v. Mayton, 2012 WL 163047 (Iowa.App. 2012).

In Mayton, the facts were as stated above. In response to the defendant's appeal, the prosecution claimed that the subject statement was not hearsay because it was offered "to show the responses and reactions of the persons hearing the statements" or to "provide context," not to prove the truth of the matter asserted (i.e., that the defendant was on a "bad crack trip"). The Court of Appeals of Iowa disagreed, concluding that "[t]here is no question in our minds that the statement was offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted...." Specifically, the court found that

The responses and reactions of individuals at the scene, as well as the context, were fleshed out in great detail over the course of the two-week trial and this single statement did nothing to enlighten the jury about the unfolding events....The statement did, however, cast an unwarranted aspersion on [the defendant] because, as the prosecutor himself conceded, [the declarant] had no information to suggest [the defendant] actually used crack cocaine on that evening. As the statement was offered for the truth of the matter asserted, it was hearsay.

The court then pointed out that, "[a]nticipating this conclusion, the State argues the statement nonetheless was admissible under the 'present sense impression' exception to the hearsay rule." The court found, however, that it did not need to "address the applicability of this exception" because it was "persuaded by the State's alternate argument that the statement was not prejudicial."

Here's my question: Why did the court even bother to note that it did not need to "address the applicability of this exception"? The implication of such a statement is that it was at least arguable that the exception applied when in fact it clearly did not. As with live testimony, for a statement to come in under an exception to the rule against hearsay, the speaker needs personal knowledge pursuant to Rule 602. By the prosecution's own admission, the person claiming that the defendant was on a "bad crack trip" had no information to suggest that the defendant actually used crack cocaine. Thus, it was clear that the statement did not qualify for admission under Rule 5.803(1) or any exception to the rule against hearsay.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2012/01/like-its-federal-counterpart-iowa-rule-of-evidence-58031-provides-an-exception-to-the-rule-against-hearsay-for-text-s.html

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