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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Saturday, December 1, 2012

Power Of Attorney: Court Of Appeals Of Minnesota Finds Attorney's Statements Were Adoptive/Authorized Admissions

Similar to its federal counterpartMinnesota Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(B) provides that

A statement is not hearsay if...[t]he statement is offered against a party and is...a statement of which the party has manifested an adoption or belief in its truth...

Meanwhile, similar to its federal counterpartMinnesota Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(C) provides that

A statement is not hearsay if...[t]he statement is offered against a party and is...a statement by a person authorized by the party to make a statement concerning the subject....

So, let's say that a defendant is interrogated at police headquarters with his attorney present. And let's say that the attorney tells the sergeant that the defendant does not wish to speak to the sergeant but does want to present information helpful to the investigator through the attorney. Are the attorney's ensuing statements adoptive admissions pursuant to Rule 801(d)(2)(B) and/or authorized admissions pursuant to Rule 801(d)(2)(C)? According to the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Minnesota in State v. Willis, 2012 WL 5896752 (Minn.App. 2012), the answer is yes.

In Willis, Julius Willis, Jr. appealed from his conviction for second-degree felony murder. After Willis allegedly committed the crime charged along with T.M., the two men

appeared at police headquarters with attorney Miller. A police sergeant read [Willis] his Miranda warning. Miller stated that [Willis] did "not wish to speak to [the sergeant]," but was there to "cooperate" and to "try to present information [that is] helpful to [the] investigation through [Miller]." Miller then responded on [Willis]'s behalf to the sergeant's questions.

At Willis's ensuing trial, the trial court allowed the prosecution to admit Miller's responses, deeming that adoptive admissions that were admissible against Willis pursuant to Minnesota Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(B) and/or authorized admissions that were admissible against Willis pursuant to Minnesota Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(C).

After he was convicted, Willis appealed, claiming, inter alia, that this ruling was erroneous. The Court of Appeals of Minnesota disagreed, concluding that

The record supports the district court's rulings that appellant adopted and authorized Miller's statements. First, Miller stated that appellant was there to cooperate with and to aid the officers in their investigation. Appellant did not disagree with this statement, nor did he disagree with or correct any other of Miller's statements. Second, appellant was present during the entire interview and actively conversed with Miller. There are several instances when appellant and Miller consulted prior to Miller responding to a question. Appellant and Miller consulted privately before Miller responded to the sergeant's inquiries about whether appellant had any injuries, where the weapon was located, and whether appellant was wearing the shirt he wore the night before. Thus, there were frequent whispered conversations between appellant and Miller before or after Miller spoke on appellant's behalf. Finally, Miller stated that appellant and T.M. must have offended a large group of people, and then consulted privately with appellant before offering details about the confrontation. Miller stated that appellant and T.M. had been confronted and "boxed" in by more than five people, that appellant acted in self-defense, and that L.F. ran into the knife. Thus, appellant used the interview as an opportunity to establish a defense and intended that the sergeant rely on his statements. The district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting these statements.

I partially agree. Generally, an adoptive admission would involve an individual adopting someone else's statement after it was made. And while there can be adoption through silence, that generally wouldn't be the case when a sergeant is present because what was WIllis to do if he disagreed with what his attorney said? Conversely, an authorized admission would generally involve an individual authorizing someone to speak on his behalf before the statement is made. Therefore, I think that the attorney's statements were clearly authorized admissions but not so clearly adoptive admissions.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2012/12/similar-to-its-federal-counterpartminnesota-rule-of-evidence-801d2bprovides-that-a-statement-is-not-hearsay-ift.html

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