EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A New Theory of Hearsay, Take 3: Rule 602 & Anonymous Hearsay Declarants

Federal Rule of Evidence 803(1) provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for

A statement describing or explaining an event or condition, made while or immediately after the declarant perceived it.

As a Rule 803 exception, this present sense impression exception applies "regardless of whether the declarant is available as a witness...." Indeed, the exception can apply even if the declarant has not been identified. But, like with a witness's testimony at trial, a statement offered under a hearsay exception is only admissible if the declarant had personal knowledge under Federal Rule of Evidence 602. So, where does that leave us?

In United States v. Daniels, 3014 WL 503058 (11th Cir. 2014), Willie Lee Daniels was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. Before trial, Daniels moved to suppress the pistol that led to the charges against him. According to the Eleventh Circuit,

The facts giving rise to Daniel's motion to suppress [were] established at the suppression hearing. Officer Hudson received a call from the police dispatcher, who was responding to a 911 call, stating that a man was chasing a woman at gunpoint at an apartment complex. He drove to and into the complex, without siren or lights activated, and once inside the complex, he observed Daniels and a woman, later identified as Clarissa Watson, walking toward his patrol car. Although Daniels and Watson fit the dispatcher's description of the individuals referred to in the 911 call, to Hudson they “look[ed] apparently normal” and “casual.” He was therefore “puzzled” and did not confront them. When he made eye contact with them, however, Daniels turned and ran around the corner of a nearby building. Hudson became suspicious that Daniels could be the man with the gun, so he drove toward Watson, exited his vehicle, and directed her to the ground, and radioed for backup. At this point, Daniels returned from around the corner of the building; he had been gone for only a few seconds.  

After arresting Daniels, Hudson went around the corner of the building where Daniels had disappeared and found a privacy fence. Looking over the top of the fence, he saw a semiautomatic pistol, which he retrieved. That was the firearm described in Daniels's indictment.

The district court denied the motion to suppress and later allowed the prosecution to introduce the 911 call into evidence. After he was convicted, Daniels appealed, claiming, inter alia, that the 911 call was improperly admitted. The Eleventh Circuit disagreed, concluding that

The district court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the anonymous 911 call because the statements constituted an exception to hearsay as the present sense impressions of the caller.

I'm fine with the court's Rule 803(1) analysis, but where is the Rule 602 analysis? All we know is that the anonymous caller's descriptions generally matched the descriptions of Daniels and Watson. But Daniels wasn't chasing Watson. He didn't have a gun. We have no idea what the anonymous caller actually saw. We don't even know who he is. We don't know how long it took for him to call 911. So, why weren't these issues raised by the defense and/or addressed by the court?



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The statement (911 call) is sufficient evidence enough to satisfy 602, especially when corroborated by what the cop saw. (The couple matched the caller's description.) Courts never seem to require more than that, and i can't see the need for more. Otherwise, lots of very relevant hearsay would be excluded. I'm with Posner, J. The hearsay rules exclude too much valuable evidence.

Posted by: Fred Moss | Feb 17, 2014 1:01:18 PM

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