EvidenceProf Blog

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

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Eastern District of Louisiana Finds Statements Not Concerning Cause of Decedent's Impending Death Failed to Qualify as Dying Declarations

Federal Rule of Evidence 804(b)(2) provides an exception to the rule against hearsay 

In a prosecution for homicide or in a civil case, [for] a statement that the declarant, while believing the declarant’s death to be imminent, made about its cause or circumstances.

As the rule makes clear, for this "dying declaration" exception to apply, the declarant must not only believe that their death is imminent but must also make statement concerning the cause of circumstances of what they believe to be their impending death. A good example of the proponent failing to satisfy this latter requirement can be found in Metropolitan Life Insurance Company v. Muecke, 2023 WL 7131041 (E.D.La. 2023).

Muecke involved a dispute over who was the beneficiary of a deceased's life insurance policy.

[Cameron] Nickle...provided an affidavit by the Decedent's sister, Pynne Floresca (“Floresca”). In the affidavit, Floresca stated the Decedent told her that the Decedent “did not have a will, but he did have life insurance with his new job and that his son, [Nickle], [was] his sole beneficiary.”...Additionally, Floresca stated that she witnessed Nickle ask the Decedent if Mueke's name was “on anything,” and the Decedent responded in the negative, further implying that the Decedent intended Nickle to be the Designation beneficiary.

The court rejected Nickle's claim that this these statements qualified as dying declarations, ruling as follows:

Nickle argues that these statements fall into the dying declaration exception....For this exception to apply, the declarant must be unavailable as a witness, and the statement must be made by the declarant, while believing the declarant's death to be imminent, about its cause or circumstances. See Fed. R. Evid. 804(b)(2). Here, the declarant is the Decedent, and he is unavailable as a witness. See Fed. R. Evid. 804(a)(4) (“A declarant is considered to be unavailable as a witness if: the declarant cannot be present or testify at the trial or hearing because of death.”). The statement made by the Decedent did not concern what he believed to cause his impending death, but rather pertains to the beneficiary of his life insurance plan. The evidence submitted by Nickle does not fall into the hearsay exception, and therefore, the contents of the affidavit are not competent summary judgment evidence.

-CM

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/evidenceprof/2024/02/federal-rule-of-evidence-804b2-provides-an-exception-to-the-rule-against-hearsay-in-a-prosecution-for-homicide-or-in-a.html

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