Tuesday, March 02, 2010

More on Bryant

Some more on Bryant: Here, once again, are links to the Michigan Supreme Court opinion, from the court's website and from Westlaw. And here, via Scotusblog, are links to the petition for certiorari and to the brief in opposition.

Bryant will give the Court a chance to resolve several important issues in confrontation law. Here are several points I hope it will establish:

1. The proper perspective for determining whether a statement is testimonial is that of the speaker – that is, of the potential witness – not of a police interrogator, if there is one. The state will try to argue that in this case when the police came to the scene they did not know how dangerous it might be. Even if that assertion were true – and it seems dubious at best – it is clear that the victim knew that the assailant posed no immediater danger. The victim's statement was made for evidentiary purposes, to describe the crime and identify the person who committed it. On this ground, it should be considered testimonial.

2. To the extent formality is a requisite for a statement to be deemed testimonial, it is satisfied by demonstrating that a reasonable person in the position of the declarant would expect the statement to be used in investigation or prosecution of a crime. It would make no sense to adopt a separate formality requirement. The purpose of the Confrontation Clause is to ensure that testimony is given under the proper conditions. To hold that a statement clearly made in anticipation of evidentiary use is not testimonial because it was given informally would stand logic on its head and invite witnesses and government authorities to evade the confrontation right by giving and taking such statmeents informally.

3. That the witness is in a medical emergency does not render non-testimonial his statements describing the crime and identifying the assailant. The situation of the victim was dire – but he did not help it by identifying the shooter and describing the circumstances of the shooting. Plainly, these statements were made for testimonial purposes.

4. That the suspect is at large when the witness speaks does not render the statements non-testimonial. The victim did not have any reason to believe that either he or anybody else was in further imminent danger from the assailant. A rule making a statement non-testimonial whenever the suspect identified by the statement is at large would yield absurd results, invite abuse, and create an incentive for bad policing.

One further thought: As mentioned in my first post on this case, I think it is an interesting question whether, under what I believe to be the optimal rule for forfeiture of the confrontation right, Bryant should be held to have forfeited the right. That depends on whether it was feasible, consistent with standards of humaneness, to take the victim's deposition. I believe that to the extent that one has an intuitive feeling that the statement in this case should be admitted this is responsive to an impulse that Bryant should not be allowed to have killed the victim and then caused his statement to be excluded on grounds of forfeiture. But Giles v. California appears to foreclose this resolution of the matter. I very much hope that what I regard as a mistake in one direction in Giles does not lead the Court to make a compensatory but broader mistake in construing the breadth of the confrontation right in Bryant.

Cert grant in Bryant

I was out of touch, skiing, yesterday, and am slow in reporting the news that the Supreme Crut granted cert in Michigan v. Bryant; I had previously reported on the state supreme court case. More on this later.