Monday, March 28, 2011

Statements made in the absence of interrogation

Bryant concerns statements made in response to police interrogation. It remains clear, however, that interrogation is not a requirement for a statement to be considered testimonial in nature.

So how is the question of whether a statement is testimonial to be made if the statement is not testimonial? The principal theoretical issue that divided the majority and the dissent in Bryant – from whose perspective should the determination of whether a statement is testimonial? – does not arise if there is no interrogation: The choice must be made from the perspective of the speaker.

Bryant does appear to expand on Davis v. Washington by creating a general principle that “primary purpose” is determinative in all circumstances of whether a statement is testimonial. As I have written before, I think it would be better to speak of understanding or anticipation than of purpose, especially given that the test is supposed to be an objective one. Moreover, if determining the primary purpose requires a weighing of objectives – “Of these two (or more) purposes served by making the statement, which one would have been more important to a reasonable declarant in the position of the actual declarant?” – it is, as Justice Thomas wrote in his partial dissent in Davis v. Washington, “not reliably discernible,” and the test becomes inevitably “an exercise in discretion.”

But note how Justice Scalia handles “primary purpose” in Bryant. It is important to bear in mind that he was the author of both Crawford and Davis. In Bryant, of course, he was in dissent, but he was writing on a question that the majority does not address – how to determine the primary purpose of the declarant given that his purpose alone is determinative in the particular case. Scalia, of course, addressed that question because in his view only the declarant’s purpose is ever determinative. The majority did not address that question because in its view the purpose of the interrogator, if there is one, is also important, and indeed in Bryant the majority paid much more attention to the interrogator's perspective. But in a case without an interrogator, the majority will have to consider the speaker's perspective more carefully.

Justice Scalia wrote:

For an out-of-court statement to qualify as testimonial, the declarant must intend the statement to be a solemn declaration rather than an unconsidered or offhand remark; and he must make the statement with the understanding that it may be used to invoke the coercive machinery of the State against the accused.

That’s a useful, serviceable standard. It avoids the problems highlighted by Justice Thomas. And I believe it is consistent with Bryant. Courts should apply it.


Andrew MacKie-Mason said...

Applying extra constraints on "solemn declarations" rather than offhanded remarks seems odd at first, but I guess it can be justified because a "solemn declaration" will be given extra weight by a jury that may otherwise disregard an offhanded remark as unreliable. However, what if the prosecution attempted to introduce evidence of a "solemn declaration" but presented it in a way that made it seem no more reliable than an offhanded remark? Would the Confrontation Clause be implicated?

Richard D. Friedman said...

Well, I confess I've never much liked the emphasis on solemnity. Testimony should be solemn, but what if it is given in an un-solemn way? But as I understand what Scalia means, he's using solemnity in the sense of "made with an appreciation of the gravity of the consequences," and that's a fair enough requirement. I think it allows him to move towards a more anticipation-oriented definition while professing adherence to the purpose-oriented approach of .

In any event, I think solemnity is supposed to be a marker of whether the statement is testimonial or not; if it is, then the Confrontation Clause applies, and otherwise the Clause does not apply. Reliability and the likely weight to be given by the jury really shouldn't enter in. I'm sure there are many non-testimonial statements that are less reliable than most testimonial statements, but the Confrontation Clause just doesn't apply.

Darren-Chaker said...

Interesting take on interrogation and well cited cases.