On May 24, 2012, the Massachusetts Court of Appeals decided Commonwealth v. Nutbrown, overruling the lower court’s decision to exclude statements against penal interests. The Court reversed the judgement of the lower court and deemed exclusion of two such statements to be improper and not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
In order to admit a statement against penal interest, three requirements must be met.
(1) The Declarant’s testimony must be unavailable; (2) the statement must be incriminating to the declarant; and (3) the statement must be corroborated evidencing trustworthiness.
In this case there existed some uncertainty as to which of the two occupants of a motor vehicle was the driver of the car who crashed into the victims and sped away. As a result of the crash, the Defendant was charged with Leaving the Scene of Personal Injury, Leaving the Scene of Property Damage, Operating Under the Influence of Alcohol and Operating on a Suspended License. At trial, the Defendant attempted to introduce three different statements made by the other occupant of the vehicle. In these statements, the other occupant of the vehicle told the defendant’s mother, attorney and friends that he was driving the car on the date in question. The Appeals Court opined that the trial judge appeared to take on the responsibility of the jury in excluding two of the statements (to the mother and friends) as lacking credibility and admitting only that statement made to the defendant’s attorney. In reviewing the remainder of evidence admitted at trial, the Court concluded that the exclusion of two statements was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
For the full opinion see http://www.massreports.com/slipops/