DYING DECLARATION ADMISSIBLE

Filed under: Criminal Law, Death Penalty Cases, News Tags: by Steven F. Fairlie @ February 28, 2011

The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a dying declaration of the victim of a gunshot wound, identifying the shooter, is admissible. The High Court ruled in a 6-2 decision that despite the fact that five different officers interrogated the man, his statements were not testimonial in nature and instead were elicited in an effort to determine whether the officers or victim were in danger of additional violence. The shooting had taken place a few blocks away.

Normally, a criminal defendant has a right to cross examine his accusers so that the juror can evaluate credibility and so that any biases or inconsistencies can be revealed. This right is guaranteed to all citizens via the confrontation clause to the Constitution.

Justice Antonin Scalia blasted the majority in a strongly worded dissent:
Today’s tale — a story of five officers conducting successive examinations of a dying man with the primary purpose, not of obtaining and preserving his testimony regarding his killer, but of protecting him, them, and others from a murderer somewhere on the loose — is so transparently false that professing to believe it demeans this institution. In its vain attempt to make the incredible plausible, however — or perhaps as an intended second goal — today’s opinion distorts our Confrontation Clause jurisprudence and leaves it in a shambles. Instead of clarifying the law, the court makes itself the obfuscator of last resort.

Justice Scalia scolded the majority for offering a “hollow constitutional guarantee,” and concluded: “For all I know, Bryant has received his just deserts. But he surely has not received them pursuant to the procedures that our Constitution requires. And what has been taken away from him has been taken away from us all.”

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