Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Having it both ways on the declarant's and questioner's perspectives

As my last posting suggested, when courts are considering whether to characterize as testimonial an accusation made to a police agent in a situation that can arguably be considered an "ongoing emergency," they have most often considered the matter from the perspective of the questioner. I have frequently argued, on this blog and elsewhere, that this is the wrong perspective. In this context, this perspective leads more readily than does the one I believe is proper – that of a reasonable person in the position of the declarant – to the conclusion that the statement is non-testimonial. That is in large part because the court can maintain that, before the declarant speaks, the questioner does not know the nature of the situation; in some cases, it is unclear to the questioner whether a crime has been committed and even if that is clear the questioner often will not know where the perpetrator is. The declarant, on the other hand, most likely knows that she is reporting a crime, and if there is not any imminent danger she will probably know that as well; thus, she is more likely to understand from the very start that she is providing information that will be used by the prosecutorial process.

Now compare the situation in which a confederate of the accused makes a statement to a confidential informant or a undercover police officer. In this context, the reasonable-declarant perspective – the one I believe is proper – leads readily to the conclusion that the statement is not testimonial: The declarant presumably has no idea that she is creating evidence for use in the prosecutorial process. But if one takes the questioner's perspective, the statement sure looks testimonial: The questioner is certainly aware that the conversation is generating evidence, and often that is her primary purpose for conducting the conversation. And guess what – in this context the courts are more likely to take the declarant's perspective. The rule seems to be that the prosecution wins. Cf. United States v. Von’s Grocery Co., 384 U.S. 270, 301 (1966) (Stewart, J., dissenting) (“The sole consistency that I can find is that in litigation under § 7, the Government always wins.”).

Consider the decision this past week in United States v. Udeozor, 2008 WL 271295 (4th Cir. Feb. 1, 2008). The defendant was charged with having committed various forms of abuse , in conspiracy with her husband, against a 14-year-old girl brought over from Africa. The husband disappeared before trial, but the prosecution introduced tapes of telephone conversations that the victim held with him. Even on the assumption, apparently well founded, that the girl made the calls at the behest of the Government, the court concluded that the husband's statements were non-testimonial:
Mr. Udeozor's statements are not testimonial because, objectively viewed, no reasonable person in Mr. Udeozor's position would have expected his statements to be used later at trial. Mr. Udeozor certainly did not expect that his statements would be used prosecutorially; in fact, he expected just the opposite. As discussed above [in concluding that the statements fell within the hearsay exception for declarations against interest], Mr. Udeozor made numerous statements to the victim that were contrary to his own penal interests, including admissions that he had hit the victim, had engaged in sexual intercourse with her, and had smuggled her into the United States illegally. Moreover, he made the victim promise that she would keep their conversation between the two of them. These statements would not have been made by a reasonable person who believed his statements would be used in a later criminal prosecution. * * * Because Mr. Udeozor plainly did not think he was giving any sort of testimony when making his statements to the victim during the recorded telephone calls, the admission of these two taped conversations into evidence did not violate Dr. Udeozor's rights under the Confrontation Clause.
Correct result, and, so far as quoted above, at least largely the correct analysis. So has the Fourth Circuit, which had previously minimized the significance of the declarant's perspective, been converted? Nope. The court says, "
The intent of the police officers or investigators is relevant to the determination of whether a statement is 'testimonial' only if it is first the case that a person in the position of the declarant reasonably would have expected that his statements would be used prosecutorially." In other words, that the declarant reasonably expected his statement to be used in connection with a prosecution "is necessary – but sometimes not sufficient" for the statement to be deemed testimonial. There really is no justification for this conjunctive test, in which a statement would be testimonial only if both speaker and questioner anticipate from that start that will be used in prosecution; it strikes me as an artificial construct designed simply to limit the category of statements deemed testimonial.


Anonymous said...

The reason why a declarant's statement to an undercover officer (or, as in Udeozor, a declarant's statement to an agent of law enforcement) is nontestimonial is because it lacks sufficient "formality" --a prerequisite for a testimonial statement according to Davis.

Simply stated, such a statement lacks a sufficient resemblance to in-court testimony by a witness to be deemed "testimonial." For one thing, when a witness testifies in-court both parties (i.e., the questioner and the declarant) know that they are providing evidence against the accused. Thus, contrary to Prof. Friedman's assertion, there is some justification for the Udeozar conjunctive test.

The undercover situation is more analagous to the accusatory nontestimonial statement in Dutton v. Evans, given by a declarant/confederate to his cellmate. More like a "casual remark to an acquaintance" than a "formal statement to the government."

What about the situation where there is (1) no questioner, (2) no nexus whatsoever between the declarant's statement and any conduct on the part of the government, and (3) insufficient "formality"? Should such a statement ever be deemed testimonial?

The Supreme Court of Montana has issued a splintered opinion addressing this issue (and also addressing the forfeiture doctrine in great detail).

Prof. Friedman's commentary on State v. Sanchez, 2008 WL 273926 (decided Jan. 31, 2008) would be appreciated.

Paul V.

Richard D. Friedman said...

As I wrote this posting, I anticipated that Paul would respond with "formality". We have been through this issue often before -- we are both predictable and consistent, which might be alternative terms for boring -- and so I won't restate my reasons for believing that under Davis formality adds nothing to the reasonable-declarant perspective. My article Crawford, Davis, and Way Beyond, in 15 J. L. & Pol., goes through this matter at some length.

The Montana case is indeed very interesting. I am hoping to be able to comment on it in a few days.