Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Authorized Transfer: Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Finds Forfeiture by Wrongdoing Applied at Murder Trial
A statement offered against a party that wrongfully caused—or acquiesced in wrongfully causing—the declarant’s unavailability as a witness, and did so intending that result.
In my essay, The Purpose Driven Rule: Drew Peterson, Giles v. California, and the Transferred Intent Doctrine of Forfeiture by Wrongdoing, I argued that courts have applied a transferred intent doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing. In other words, if Defendant kills Prospective Witness to prevent him testifying at Trial A (e.g., a burglary trial), Defendant's intent to render Prospective Witness unavailable can transfer to Trial B (Defendant's trial for murdering Prospective Witness), rendering Rule 804(b)(6) applicable. The latest example of this can be found in Commonwealth v. Morales, 2014 WL 1669802 (Pa. 2014).
In Morales, Hector Morales was charged with various drug crimes, and Ronald Lee Simmons, Jr. was a prospective witness for the prosecution at Morales's impending drug trial. Thereafter, as trial approached,
Simmons's wife was awakened by her husband, who sprang out of bed and opened the bedroom door. Simmons then screamed, and his wife saw that he was in a struggle with an intruder....The intruder was a man of short stature wearing a shirt with a design on it, and Simmons yelled that the intruder had a gun....The wife heard several gunshots, after which the intruder ran off.... Simmons stated to his wife that he had been shot and then fell down the steps....His wife called the police and waited for their arrival, noticing, as she waited, that the back door to the house had been forced open....Simmons died after being taken to the hospital. An autopsy revealed that he had suffered six gunshot wounds, including a fatal shot to the chest; the other wounds were in the hands and arms, and appeared to be defensive wounds....His death was deemed a homicide.
Thereafter, an eyewitness identified Simmons as the shooter, and a palm print taken from Simmons's back door was a match with Morales's palm.
Morales was later charged with murder, and the prosecution used Rule 804(b)(6) to admit hearsay statements made by Simmons that tended to incriminate Morales. After he was convicted, Morales appealed, claiming that
Mr. Simmons's statements could only have been offered at Appellant's drug trial. Going further, Appellant states that because “[o]bviously,” Simmons “could not have been a witness in the murder case where he is the victim,” the forfeiture by wrongdoing exception had no applicability to the murder trial.
The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania disagreed and affirmed Morales's murder conviction.