EvidenceProf Blog

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

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Superior Court of Pennsylvania Finds Trial Court Improperly Precluded Defendant From Impeaching Declarant

Similar to its federal counterpart, Pennsylvania Rule of Evidence 806 states that

When a hearsay statement has been admitted in evidence, the declarant’s credibility may be attacked, and then supported, by any evidence that would be admissible for those purposes if the declarant had testified as a witness. The court may admit evidence of the declarant’s inconsistent statement or conduct, regardless of when it occurred or whether the declarant had an opportunity to explain or deny it. If the party against whom the statement was admitted calls the declarant as a witness, the party may examine the declarant on the statement as if on cross-examination.

In other words, when a declarant's hearsay statement is admitted pursuant to a hearsay exception or exclusion, the declarant's credibility can be impeached as if the declarant were a witness at trial.

In Commonwealth v. Williams, 2021 WL 245297 (Pa.Super 2021), Joseph Williams was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and related crimes.

At trial, the Commonwealth called Rayshaun James to testify that Justin Olexovitch gave him a gun with instructions to give that weapon to Williams....The Commonwealth offered James’ testimony to support a conviction for Williams’ alleged conspiracy to commit sale or transfer of firearms. This hearsay statement-James’ testimony that Olexovitch instructed James to give the gun to Williams-was admitted as a statement uttered in furtherance of an alleged conspiracy, pursuant to Pa.R.E. 803(25)(E)


Before resting, the defense made a motion to call Detective Beidler to the stand....Williams notified the court that Detective Beidler would testify that when he interviewed Olexovitch, Olexovitch stated that he gave no one instructions to give a gun to Williams. Williams claims that this evidence should have been admitted under Rule 806 because it impeaches Olexovitch's previously-admitted hearsay statement, which was entered into evidence via Rayshaun James’ testimony.

The Superior Court agreed, concluding that

Here, the trial court admitted Olexovitch's hearsay statement, which was related to the jury via Rayshaun James’ testimony....Although the Commonwealth made its evidentiary proffer in support of a charge which the court ultimately dismissed (conspiracy to commit sale or transfer of firearms), James’ retelling of Olexovitch's statement also had the effect of bolstering the evidence that supported the remaining and still-pending charges. Thus, even if the conspiracy charge was no longer at issue, because Olexovitch's hearsay declaration bolstered the evidence relating to the other still-pending charges, Olexovitch's credibility was open to attack by an inconsistent statement. See Pa.R.E. 806

That said, the court concluded that the error was harmless.



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