EvidenceProf Blog

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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Last Frontier: Alaska Murder Seeks Admission of Results of Two Polygraph Exams

According to an article in the New Miner (Alaska),

The attorney for a woman accused of killing her 18-month-old son in November hopes the court will admit evidence from a polygraph test the defense believes will help absolve her of guilt.

Bill Satterberg, the attorney representing Fairbanks resident Amberlynn Swanson, filed a request that the court admit two pieces of evidence in the case: a polygraph test of Swanson conducted by an expert in the field, David Raskin, and expert testimony from Raskin claiming law enforcement failed to properly conduct a test of their own....

On Sept. 17, Satterberg filed a motion requesting the judge allow the consideration of the two polygraphs, one by Raskin and one by Alaska State Troopers. 

So, what's the likelihood that Swanson will be successful?

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September 30, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 29, 2014

Telling Lies in America: New Jersey Class Action Challenges Use of Polygraph Exams For Sex Offenders on Parole

I've written before about what could be seen as an inconsistency in the American criminal justice system: Polygraph evidence is inadmissible to prove a defendant's innocence (or guilt) at trial, and yet such evidence is routinely admitted for other purposes, such as determining whether a convicted sex offender violated parole. Apparently, this inconsistency is not part of a potentially viable class action lawsuit in New Jersey.

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September 29, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Twitter Evidence in White House Shooting

This weekend's Washington Post had an eye opening story on a previously unreported shooting back in a 2011.  Among the revelations was that someone posted a tweet about the shooting at the time.  From the story:

A woman in a taxi stopped at a nearby stoplight immediately took to Twitter to describe the actions of “this crazy guy.”

“Driver in front of my cab, STOPPED and fired 5 gun shots at the White House,” she wrote, adding, “It took the police a while to respond.”

If the case had gone to trial (the shooter pleaded guilty), I wonder if this tweet would be admissible.  The caps could support an excited utterance.  Possibly also a present sense impression, although seems to be a significant time lag between the shooting portion of the tweet and the tweeting.

September 29, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 26, 2014

Disabling Condition: Should Evidence of Defendant's Disability be Admissible in Assault/Police Brutality Trial?

According to an article in the Lake Geneva News,

A man who is accused of attacking a police officer, but counters that he is the victim of police brutality, is set for his second jury trial next Monday.  

Daniel White, 42, of rural Elkhorn, faces three felony counts and a misdemeanor related to an incident in which his two pit bulls bit two deputies and he allegedly struck a deputy with his fist and a wood board.  

White, who walked in the courthouse with a cane and collects disability checks, contends that the officer knocked down his stockade fence, beat him up and lied to conceal their actions. 

Prior to trial, the prosecution asked the judge to (1) prohibit White's cane from being in the jury; and (2) to exclude evidence of White's disability. How should the judge rule?

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September 26, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Large Houses of Stone: Northern District of Illinois Finds Statements Don't Qualify as Adoptive Admissions

Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(B) provides that

A statement that meets the following conditions is not hearsay:....

The statement is offered against an opposing party and:....

is one the party manifested that it adopted or believed to be true....

So, what exactly does it take for a party to adopt another individual's statement under Rule 801(d)(2)(B) ? The recent opinion of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in United States v. Turner, 2014 WL 4699708 (N.D.Ill. 2014), does a better job than most at answering this question.

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September 25, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What Happens in the Jury Room, Take 2: Greg Kelley Denied a New Trial

Previously, I posed an entry about the Greg Kelley case, in which Kelley sought a new trial based upon one juror claiming that he wasn't convinced of Kelley's guilt and other jurors voting "guilty" to avoid sequestration. I predicted that the jurors would not be able to impeach their verdict pursuant to Texas Rule of Evidence 606(b), and, according to this story, that's exactly what happened.

September 24, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Improper Relations, Take 2: Nebraska Court Finds Rape Shield Rule Applicable to Relationship Evidence

Yesterday, I posted an entry on this blog about State v. Lavalleur, 289 Neb. 102 (Neb. 2014), in which the Supreme Court of Nebraska found that the trial court erred in finding that evidence of a sexual assault victim's relationship with a third person was inadmissible under Nebraska's rape shield rule. According to the court, this relationship evidence was (1) beyond the scope of the rape shield rule because it was not evidence of "sexual behavior" or "sexual predisposition;" and (2) relevant because a person in a relationship with a third person has a motive to claim that her sexual act with someone else was nonconsensual as opposed to consensual. Today, let's look at the opinion of the Court of Appeals of Minnesota in State v. Kegg, 2014 WL 4671097 (Minn.App. 2014).

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September 24, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Improper Relations?: Supreme Court of Nebraska Finds Rape Shield Rule Inapplicable to Relationship Evidence

Federal Rule of Evidence 412 provides in relevant part that

(a) Prohibited Uses. The following evidence is not admissible in a civil or criminal proceeding involving alleged sexual misconduct:  

(1) evidence offered to prove that a victim engaged in other sexual behavior; or  

(2) evidence offered to prove a victim’s sexual predisposition.  

(b) Exceptions.  

(1) Criminal Cases. The court may admit the following evidence in a criminal case:  

(A) evidence of specific instances of a victim’s sexual behavior, if offered to prove that someone other than the defendant was the source of semen, injury, or other physical evidence;  

(B) evidence of specific instances of a victim’s sexual behavior with respect to the person accused of the sexual misconduct, if offered by the defendant to prove consent or if offered by the prosecutor; and  

(C) evidence whose exclusion would violate the defendant’s constitutional rights.

All states, including Nebraska and Minnesota, have state counterparts to this federal rape shield rule. And yet, in recent opinions issues mere days apart, courts in these states reached opposite conclusions in cases with very similar factual contexts. So, which court was right. Today, let's look at the case out of Nebraska.

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September 23, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Time is Money: Eastern District of Pennsylvania Finds Evidence of Subsequent Remedial Measure Inadmissible Against Dollar General

Federal Rule of Evidence 407 provides that

When measures are taken that would have made an earlier injury or harm less likely to occur, evidence of the subsequent measures is not admissible to prove:  


•culpable conduct;

•a defect in a product or its design; or

•a need for a warning or instruction.

But the court may admit this evidence for another purpose, such as impeachment or — if disputed — proving ownership, control, or the feasibility of precautionary measures.

In McLeod v. Dollar General, 2014 WL 4634962 (E.D.Pa. 2014), the plaintiff sought to admit evidence of the defendant's subsequent remedial measures to impeach a witness. So, was he successful?

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September 22, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Back to the Future: Court of Appeals of Texas Finds State of Mind Exception Inapplicable in Duress Case

Similar to its federal counterpartTexas Rule of Evidence 803(3) provides an exception to the rule of hearsay for

A statement of the declarant's then existing state of mind, emotion, sensation, or physical condition (such as intent, plan, motive, design, mental feeling, pain, or bodily health), but not including a statement of memory or belief to prove the fact remembered or believed unless it relates to the execution, revocation, identification, or terms of declarant's will.

As I always tell my students, Rule 803(3) covers statements concerning present feelings of future intentions but not past events. So where did that leave the defendant in Cogdill v. State, 2014 WL 4627579 (Tex.App.-San Antonio 2014)?

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September 19, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Heat of the Moment: 8th Circuit Applies Rigorous Analysis to Excited Utterance Issue

Federal Rule of Evidence 803(2) provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for

A statement relating to a startling event or condition, made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement that it caused.

So, how does a court determine whether a statement was made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by a startling event or condition? The recent opinion of the Eighth Circuit in United States v. Graves, 756 F.3d 602 (8th Cir. 2014), does a great job of breaking out this analysis.

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September 18, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Intrinsic Worth: Prior Sex Crimes by Boy Scout Leader Unlikely to be Deemed Intrinsic to Current Charges

According to an article on www.nj.com

Former Morris County Boy Scout leader Stephen Corcoran "groomed" three alleged victims by using pornography, alcohol and masturbation to make them feel "comfortable" performing sex acts with him, a Morris County assistant prosecutor argued today.

Assistant Prosecutor Meg Rodriguez made that argument in Superior Court in Morristown at the conclusion of a pre-trial hearing in which she sought permission to introduce evidence involving related crimes not at issue in the case.

According to Rodriguez,"[t]he lesser, uncharged crimes involving pornography, alcohol use and masturbation are 'intrinsic' to the case." Judge Robert Gilson responded that

he wasn't sure Rodriguez's argument exactly fit the rule of evidence she was citing, but he also told Gilbreth, "It's hard to imagine you'd have testimony about the offense without saying what led up to it."

So, what exactly does that mean?

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September 17, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Forfeit Loss: 9th Circuit Finally Decides Burden of Proof to Apply to Forfeiture by Wrongdoing

Federal Rule of Evidence 804(b)(6) provides an exception to the rule against hearsay (and the Confrontation Clause) for

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.

So, what burden of proof is required to trigger this doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing, and can that burden be satisfied through solely circumstantial evidence? Let's take a look at the recent opinion of the Ninth Circuit in United States v. Johnson, 2013 WL 4473957 (9th Cir. 2014).

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September 16, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 15, 2014

New York Times (Liptak) on Warger v. Schauers

Adam Liptak has this piece in today's New York Times on the Supreme Court's upcoming Fed. Rule of Evidence 606 case, Warger v. Schauers. 

As I said, in this post when cert was granted, the precise bounds of the longstanding prohibition of impeaching a jury's verdict with juror testimony about deliberations is a meaty and unresolved question.  But the "hopelessly amorphous" claim in this case (alleging that the juror testimony goes to another juror's lie in voir dire and not to impeach the verdict) makes it easy for the Court to dodge the harder questions.  That's because the "lie" is not all that clear -- as I said back in March:

"[E]ssentially as I read the materials, the juror in this traffic case said she could be objective and it is alleged that her comments during deliberations (about her prior experience with traffic accidents [specifically an accident involving her daughter]) reflect a predisposition to the defense."

Liptak's reporting uncovers even deeper ambiguity in the factual record (and outside that record) about the basis for challenging the jury's verdict.  He writes:

"[The defense affidavit] does not go very far in establishing that Ms. Whipple, the forewoman, had been dishonest during jury selection or that she would have been struck from the jury had she been more forthcoming." 

And, being a reporter, he called Ms. Whipple to find out what's up.  Probably an avid-Evidence Prof Blog reader, she echoed the theme of my earlier post, "sound[ing] surprised to be central to a Supreme Court case," but adding that the defense affidavit "was all wrong."  Not only did she not exhibit a predispositon based on her daughter's traffic accident but, according to Ms. Whipple, “My daughter never had any accident.”

September 15, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Remembrance of Things Past: 7th Circuit Finds Prior Inconsistent Statement Rule Applied to Forgetful Witness

Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(1)(A) indicates that

A statement that meets the following conditions is not hearsay:  

(1) A Declarant-Witness’s Prior Statement. The declarant testifies and is subject to cross-examination about a prior statement, and the statement:  

(A) is inconsistent with the declarant’s testimony and was given under penalty of perjury at a trial, hearing, or other proceeding or in a deposition....

And, as the recent opinion of the Ninth Circuit in United States v. Cooper, 2014 WL 4476550 (7th Cir. 2014), makes clear, this "prior inconsistent statement" Rule doesn't only apply in cases involving overt inconsistencies (e.g., Witness testifies at the preliminary hearing that Dan shot Vince and then testifies at trial that Carl shot Vince). Instead, it also applies in the case of the "forgetful" witness.

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September 15, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Blink, Take 2: Ohio Court of Appeals Deems Blinking Evidence Admissible as a Dying Declaration

Back in July, I posted an entry about State v. Hailes, 2014 WL 2191405 (Md.App. 2014), in which the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland found that a victim's eye blinking constituted a dying declaration. Did the Court of Appeals of Ohio reach the same conclusion in State v. Woods, 2014 WL 4437733 (Ohip App. 1 Dist. 2014)?

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September 12, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Shenanigans at Bennigan's: 8th Circuit Finds Affidavit Admitting to Shooting Inadmissible Under Rule 804(b)(3)

Federal Rule of Evidence 804(b)(3) provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for

A statement that:  

(A) a reasonable person in the declarant’s position would have made only if the person believed it to be true because, when made, it was so contrary to the declarant’s proprietary or pecuniary interest or had so great a tendency to invalidate the declarant’s claim against someone else or to expose the declarant to civil or criminal liability; and  

(B) is supported by corroborating circumstances that clearly indicate its trustworthiness, if it is offered in a criminal case as one that tends to expose the declarant to criminal liability.

So, what exactly constites "corroborating circumstances that clearly indicate its trustworthiness," and were those circumstances present in United States v. Henley, 2014 WL 4435845 (8th Cir. 2014)?

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September 11, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What, a Fraud?: 9th Circuit Finds Evidence of Ability to Repay Irrelevant in Fraud Trial

Assume that defendants are charged with defrauding investors. Should those defendants be able to present evidence that they had the money to repay the investors as circumstantial evidence that they had the ability to repay the investors? That was the question addressed by the Ninth Circuit in its recent opinion in its recent opinion in  United States v. Sawyer, 2014 WL 4401951 (9th Cir. 2014).

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September 10, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Salamander's Wool: Supreme Court of Ohio Refuses to Apply Former Testimony Exception in Asbestos Case Against Heinz

Similar to its federal counterpartOhio Rule of Evidence 804(B)(1) provides an exception to the rule against hearsay for

Testimony given as a witness at another hearing of the same or a different proceeding, or in a deposition taken in compliance with law in the course of the same or another proceeding, if the party against whom the testimony is now offered, or, in a civil action or proceeding, a predecessor in interest, had an opportunity and similar motive to develop the testimony by direct, cross, or redirect examination....

So, what exactly qualifies as a "predecessor in interest" under this "former testimony" exception? Many federal courts have interpreted the federal exception to cover even parties related by neither privity nor common property interests. See, e.g., Lloyd v. American Export Lines, Inc., 580 F.2d 1179 (3rd Cir. 1978). But how far did the Supreme Court of Ohio go in Burkhart v. H.J. Heinz Co., 2014 WL 4358396 (Ohio 2014)?

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September 9, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Monday, September 8, 2014

Unimpeachable: Ohio Court Finds Dismissed Domestic Violence Charges Inadmissible Under Rule 608(b)

Similar to its federal counterpartOhio Rule of Evidence 608(B) provides in relevant part that

Specific instances of the conduct of a witness, for the purpose of attacking or supporting the witness's character for truthfulness, other than conviction of crime as provided in Evid. R. 609, may not be proved by extrinsic evidence. They may, however, in the discretion of the court, if clearly probative of truthfulness or untruthfulness, be inquired into on cross-examination of the witness (1) concerning the witness's character for truthfulness or untruthfulness, or (2) concerning the character for truthfulness or untruthfulness of another witness as to which character the witness being cross-examined has testified.

So, let's say that a defendant is charged with violating a protective order in large part based upon the testimony of the person protected under the order. And let's say that the alleged victim had previously made allegations of domestic violence against the defendant, with those allegations later being dismissed. Should evidence of these dismissals be admissible under Ohio Rule of Evidence 608(B)? Let's take a look at the recent opinion of the Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District in State v. Hunt, 2014 WL 4384140 (Ohio.App. 2 Dist. 2014).

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September 8, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)