EvidenceProf Blog

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

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Supreme Court of Montana Addresses State of Mind Hearsay Exception

Similar to its federal counterpart, Montana Rule of Evidence 803(3) provides an exception to the rule against 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 and bodily health), but not including a statement of memory or belief to prove the fact remembered or believed.

It's important to note, though, that many statements about a declarant's state of mind will be irrelevant or have a probative value that is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. A good example can be found in the recent opinion of the Supreme Court of Montana in State v. Gomez, 460 P.3d 926 (Mont. 2020).

In Gomez, Emmanuel Gomez was charged with partner or family member assault (PFMA) and deliberate homicide of Charlie Wyrick. Gomez was subsequently convicted after the trial court used Rule 803(3) to allow for the admission of several statements by Wyrick that established she was afraid of Gomez. After he was convicted, Gomez appealed based on the court's use of Rule 803(3), and the Supreme Court of Montana held that 

After reviewing the record in this case, we conclude the District Court abused its discretion in admitting Wyrick’s out-of-court statements to prove she feared Gomez, because the danger of jury misuse of the evidence far outweighed any relevance of the evidence to a material issue in the case. The State’s proposed path of relevance is a circuitous route: Wyrick’s fear was proof of Gomez’s motive to control her, and his motive to control her made it more likely that he in fact committed PFMA against her and killed her. Even the prosecution did not bother to follow this chain of logic, repeatedly using Wyrick’s statements as direct proof of Gomez’s abuse in its closing argument. The State’s theory of relevance for Wyrick’s state of mind “bears only a remote or artificial relationship to the legal or factual issues raised in the case” and the evidence is thus inadmissible....The District Court abused its discretion in admitting Wyrick’s out-of-court statements as evidence of her state of mind.

That said, the court found this error to be harmless.



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