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Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

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Friday, June 7, 2013

Swing and a Miss: Court of Appeals of Mississippi Seemingly Botches Prior Inconsistent Statement Appeal

Similar to its federal counterpartMississippi Rule of Evidence 801(d)(1)(A) provides that

A statement is not hearsay if...[t]he declarant testifies at the trial or hearing and is subject to cross-examination concerning the statement, and the statement is (A) inconsistent with the declarant's testimony, and was given under oath subject to the penalty of perjury at a trial, hearing or other proceeding, or in a deposition...

Conversely, if a prior inconsistent statement was not given under oath, it is only admissible to impeach the declarant and not to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the prior statement. To me, that seems like a pretty big distinction. In its opinion in Barron v. State, 2013 WL 2402916 (Miss.App. 2013), the Court of Appeals of Mississippi apparently disagreed.

In Barron, Justin Barron was convicted of murder based upon the shooting death of Matthew Miller. At trial, Matthew's wife
Joann testified [that] Matthew returned to the [couple's] shop and shoved her onto the couch. Matthew then threw part of the shop-vac toward Barron, grabbed Barron, and pushed him against a cabinet. Joann asked Matthew to let Barron go. Matthew hit Joann on the side of the head and shoved her onto the couch again. Matthew began hitting Joann's hands and feet. Joann testified that she was unable to defend herself. Joann then heard loud sounds, pushed herself out from under Matthew, and saw Barron holding a shotgun. Barron had shot Matthew twice in the back. Joann immediately dialed 911. The 911 call was received at 8:34 p.m. Joann then retrieved a rag to wipe Matthew's brow.

The testimony that Joann gave at trial seemed to indicate that Matthew was attacking Joann when Barron shot him and that Barron needed to shoot Matthew to prevent the attack. After Joann testified, however, the prosecution called a witness who

testified that she spoke with Joann the day after Matthew's murder. Joann told [the witness] that she was walking toward the door when Barron shot Matthew. Joann also told [the witness] that Barron did not have to shoot Matthew.

The trial court overruled Barron's objection to this testimony, deeming it admissible under Mississippi Rule of Evidence 801(d)(1)(A). After he was convicted, Barron appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the testimony was inadmissible under Rule 801(d)(1)(A) because it was not given under oath. The Court of Appeals of Mississippi agreed, finding that the "testimony concerning Joann's statements was merely impeachment testimony. Nonetheless, the court found that this was not reversible error because "It is customary for this Court to affirm a trial court's decision if the correct result was reached for the wrong reason.

The problem with this reasoning is that the correct result was not reached. The trial court admitted the witness' testimony concerning Joann's prior statement both to impeach her testimony at trial and to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the prior statement when it only should have been admissible for the former purpose. In other words, the trial court incorrectly admitted the prior statement to prove that she was walking toward the door when Barron shot Matthew and that Barron did not need to shoot Matthew. That's pretty major considering that Joann was the only eyewitness to the shooting.

-CM

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2013/06/similar-to-its-federal-counterpartmississippi-rule-of-evidence-801d1aprovides-that-a-statement-is-not-hearsay-if.html

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Comments

In Alaska prior inconsistent statements come in as both as substantive evidence and as impeachment - regardless of whether the prior statement was made under oath.

I'm surprised to hear this is not the universal rule. Otherwise how would the state ever get DV convictions considering the rate of recanting victims?

Posted by: TJ | Jun 10, 2013 11:01:12 AM

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