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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Failure of Confrontation: Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama Reverses Burglary Adjudication Based on Bruton Violation

Pursuant to the Bruton doctrine, the Confrontation Clause is violated by the admission at a joint jury trial of a nontestifying co-defendant's confession that facially incriminates another defendant. A textbook application of the doctrine can be found in the recent opinion of the Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama in C.L.H. v. State, 2012 WL 6554144 (Ala.Crim.App. 2012).

In C.L.H., C.L.H. was adjudicated delinquent based on a charge of second-degree burglary. At trial,

To establish that C.L.H. was involved in the burglary, the State presented uncontested evidence that C.L.H. was in a relationship with H.S....The State also offered an out-of-court statement given by A.R. to police. The circuit court admitted the statement over an objection by C.L.H. on the ground that admission of the statement would violate the Confrontation Clause. In his statement, A.R. said: 

"'My name is [A.R.], I'm 19 years old and I live at 1016 6th Avenue, Southwest. I met up with [H.S.], [J.H.] and [H.S.]'s girlfriend. She is a white girl. They were in a gray Honda. We went riding and we picked [P.T.] up from his apartment at the Willows. After that we went to the apartments on 8th Street, Southwest by 2nd Avenue. [J.H.] said he knew an apartment we could break into. We went to the front door and walked in. Me, [H.S.], [J.H.] went in the apartment. Inside the apartment they took a TV and an Xbox from the living room. They wrapped them up in a blanket and we went out the back door. Me and [P.T.] walked off. [H.S.], his girlfriend and [J.H.] all left in the Honda with the TV and Xbox. They were supposed to sell it and split the money with us. Me and [P.T.] got stopped down the street. We were running to [T.A.]'s house. I know it was wrong to go in and take that girl's stuff.'" 

After her adjudication, C.L.H. appealed, repeating her Confrontation Clause contention. The Court of Criminal Appeals of Alabama agreed with her, finding that A.R.'s statement facially incriminated her based upon the evidence presented at trial that she was the girlfriend of H.S. Moreover, the court found that the erroneous admission of this statement was not harmless because the other evidence admitted at trial was insufficient to sustain her conviction. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2013/01/pursuant-to-thebrutondoctrine-the-confrontation-clause-is-violated-by-the-admission-at-a-joint-jury-trial-of-a-nontestifying.html

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