Thursday, January 10, 2013
Cause I'm a Criminal: Michigan Case Reveals How Criminal Defendants Get Preferential Treatment Under Rule 803(8)(a)(iii)
Recently, I completed the first round of edits on my article, Justice of the Peace?, and a large focus of the article is about how the rules of evidence, save for Federal Rule of Evidence 404(a)(2)(C), treat criminal defendants at least as well as their civil counterparts. And, as the recent opinion of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan in Santander Consumer USA, Inc. v. Superior Pontiac Buick GMC, Inc., 2013 WL 27921 (E.D.Mich. 2013), makes clear, Federal Rule of Evidence 803(8)(a)(iii) is actually a Rule that treats criminal defendants much better than their civil counterparts.In Santander Consumer, pursuant to an Agreement, the plaintiff provided the financing that allowed customers to purchase cars from dealerships such as the defendant's dealership.
For several years, the parties appeared to have no problems with their obligations under the Agreement. But then customers started to default on their car payments and Plaintiff had the cars repossessed and had the majority of the cars sold at auction. Through this repossession and auctioning off, Plaintiff allegedly became aware that the cars that were the subjects of the contracts that it purchased from Defendant did not have the equipment that the Defendant allegedly represented the cars were originally equipped with. Plaintiff states that it learned of these discrepancies when it compared the Bookout Sheets with the Condition Reports. Plaintiff states that, because it paid for a contract that was supposed to represent a car with more equipment options, it overpaid for the contract and received a lower amount when the car was sold at auction than it should have received.
In February, 2008, Sergeant Kenneth Muscat of the Dearborn Police Department investigated alleged fraudulent activity at the defendant's dealership and specifically the activities of Liliana Sinishtaj, who "admitted to 'power booking,' the vehicles, that is, representing that certain equipment was on the cars when that equipment in fact was not, all to increase the value of the car." As part of that investigation, Muscat discovered that Sinishtaj had pleaded guilty to nine counts of felony-unauthorized credit application, a fact that Muscat included in his investigation report.
Both parties subsequently moved for summary judgment, with the plaintiff attaching Muscat's investigation report to its motion. The defendant countered that the investigation report was inadmissible hearsay, but the Eastern District of Michigan disagreed, finding that it was admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 803(8)(a)(iii), which provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for
A record or statement of a public office if:
(A) it sets out:....
(iii) in a civil case or against the government in a criminal case, factual findings from a legally authorized investigation....
As the language of Rule 803(8)(a)(iii) makes clear, the report was admissible because it was offered "in a civil case...." Conversely, if the report were offered against Sinishtaj in a criminal case against her, it would be admissible under the plain language of the Rule. On the other hand, if there were a criminal case against Sinishtaj and the report were helpful to her case, it would be admissible under the Rule because it would be offered "against the government in a criminal case...."