In this installment (the first installment) of That’s Admissible! we will look at yesterday’s Court of Criminal Appeals opinion in State v. Lisa Young. In this opinion, the Court determined a co-defendant's statements were admissible pursuant to the declarant unavailable - statement against interest exception.
In Young, a woman was murdered in a Dollar General parking lot in Sparta, Tennessee. Based on vehicle description by the Dollar General clerk, two suspects were apprehended and arrested for the woman’s murder. She was alleged to have been hit in the head with a hammer during a robbery attempt and her purse was stolen. The two suspects were a man and woman – Mr. Logan and Ms. Brown. In speaking with the police immediately after her arrest (and after receiving Miranda), Ms. Brown made self-incriminating statements. She acknowledged using Ms. Young’s phone to text the victim and set up the meeting. While reviewing the evidence in the case, police located the text messages on the telephone of Lisa Young – the defendant in this case. This happened 11 months after the fact. Ms. Young was then arrested.
Ms. Young’s case went to trial and her attorney sought to use Ms. Brown’s statements that inculpated Ms. Brown, while denying Ms. Young’s involvement. Ms. Young’s attorney had attempted to get Ms. Brown to testify in-person, but she invoked her right to remain silent (rendering her unavailable). The other co-defendant, Mr. Logan, having plead guilty to first-degree murder and receiving a life sentence, testified at trial that Ms. Young was not involved that day. Ms. Young’s attorney filed a motion to allow the co-defendant’s statements to be admitted pursuant to Rule 804(b)(3). Tennessee Rule of Evidence 804(b) provides that “a [s]tatement against [i]nterest” “is not excluded by the hearsay rule if the declarant is unavailable[.]” Subsection (b)(3) provides a statement against interest is [a] statement which was at the time of its making so far contrary to the declarant’s pecuniary or proprietary interest, or so far tended to subject the declarant to civil or criminal liability or to render invalid a claim by the declarant against another, that a reasonable person in the declarant’s position would not have made the statement unless believing it to be true.
The Court held that it is not necessary for a declarant to make a full confession in order for their statement to be admissible. Instead, trial courts are to individually analyze each statement and determine its admissibility. In this case, the Court concluded:
Ms. Brown’s assertions that she was in possession of the Defendant’s phone and used it to contact the victim to arrange “a deal” are clearly against her penal interest. Ms. Brown was in police custody at the time of this statement and had been given warnings in accordance with Miranda. 4 Ms. Brown would have been aware that she was implicated in the victim’s murder, and it was certainly against her interest to claim she set up the meeting with the victim during which the victim was murdered. Furthermore, this corroborates the Defendant’s claim that she was not in possession of that particular phone on the night of the murder and that she had given it to Ms. Brown to use.
Ms. Brown also admitted to falsifying her identity to the victim and that the co-defendant (whom she could have blamed) was not involved in the murder. The Court found that both of these statements were against her penal interest and therefore, admissible under hearsay.
The Court held that because these statements would have made a difference if admitted at trial, Ms. Young was entitled to a new trial.
You can read the full opinion here.
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