Written by my husband Masoninblue, and reprinted, full-text, here with permission.
Good afternoon, class.
Now that you are experts regarding what constitutes hearsay, let’s take a look at an interesting issue in Crane-Station’s case.
The arresting officer, McCracken County Sheriff’s Deputy Eddie McGuire testified at her Preliminary Hearing that, after she was thoroughly searched at the roadside by a female officer who did not find any contraband or paraphernalia, he arrested her for DUI, handcuffed her with her hands behind her back, placed her in the backseat of his patrol vehicle, and transported her to Lourdes Hospital in Paducah for a blood draw. As he was assisting her to get out of the backseat at the hospital, she told him that her watch had fallen off her wrist during the ride and it slipped beyond her reach behind the seat. She asked him to please retrieve it, which he agreed to do.
When the returned to his vehicle after the blood draw, he unlocked the back door, pulled the seat forward, and reached beneath it to grab the watch. When he handed her the watch, he also showed her a small crumb-like object and said, “Sure looks like heroin to me.”
He also testified that he field tested the substance after he took her to jail and it tested negative for the presence of heroin. He said he did not field test it for cocaine because “We knew all along it would be crack.”
In the trial judge’s chambers before jury selection on the first day of the trial, the prosecutor asked the trial judge to prohibit the defense from mentioning during jury selection and opening statement her statement about her watch and her request to retrieve it on the ground that the statements were inadmissible hearsay unless he offered them into evidence as an admission by a party opponent, which he did not intend to do. He also asked the judge to prohibit the defense from attempting to introduce her statements into evidence during the trial or to mention them in closing argument.
The trial judge agreed despite defense counsel’s objection.
To make matters more bizarre, Deputy McGuire changed his testimony regarding how he retrieved the watch. Without mentioning her statements, of course, he said he saw her watch and the rock together in the seatbelt crack in plain view on the seat beside her before he helped her to get out of the backseat after they arrived at the hospital.
When her attorney attempted to confront him on cross examination with the deputy’s prior inconsistent testimony under oath at the Preliminary Hearing, the prosecutor objected and the trial judge sustained the objection.
In closing argument, the prosecutor argued that she had not explained why her watch was in plain view next to the rock of crack in the seatbelt crack right beside her. Not surprisingly, the jury convicted her of possessing the rock of crack and tampering with evidence (i.e., attempting to conceal it in the seatbelt crack).
Now, let’s analyze her statements. To determine if they were hearsay, we begin by asking if the defense would have offered them to prove the truth of the matters asserted in her statements.
Answer: No, because they would have been offered to show that in response to something she said, he pulled the seat forward to look for her watch and that is when he found it, handed it to her, and produced the crumb-like substance that by his own admission he “knew all along was going to be crack.”
Notice that phrased this way, it is clear that what she actually said was not important. The point is she said something and whatever it was, it prompted him to pull the seat forward and look under it where he found her watch and the crumb-like object. That is, they were not in plain view and we know that because he testified at the Preliminary Hearing under oath that that is how he found the watch and the rock.
Whenever the actual words in a statement do not matter, as is the case here, the statement necessarily is not being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement. Make a note of this and remember it because it is very important.
Not only were her statements admissible, the deputy’s previous testimony under oath at the Preliminary Hearing was admissible to impeach his testimony about finding her watch and the rock together in plain view beside her.
The prosecutor’s incredibly sleazy closing argument commenting on her failure to explain why her watch and the rock were together in plain view, when he persuaded the trial judge to prohibit her from providing that explanation, was an atrocious improper comment on her court ordered silence.
Finally, the trial judge’s evidentiary rulings prevented her from putting on a defense in violation of her Fifth, Sixth, and 14th Amendment rights.
Cross posted at my blog and the Smirking Chimp.
Author’s Note: Due to the length of this essay, I have decided to discuss the rest of the hearsay rule in Part 3 tomorrow.