A Crawford case of interest

While we are all waiting with bated breath – now Denedo is out – for Melendez-Diaz, Professor Freidman has posted on an interesting Supreme Court of Michigan case interpreting Crawford/Davis.   People v. Michigan, (Mich. 10 June 2009).  Interestingly, the prosecution in the case asserted the statements of the victim were admissible as excited utterances, and affirmatively waived any proffer as a dying declaration.  Here is the nub of Professor Freidman’s comment agreeing with the court’s decision to suppress the statements.

Bryant was accused of murder. He had supplied the victim with drugs for years, and the shooting allegedly occurred at his home. The victim drove himself to a gas station about six blocks away, and there police, responding to a radio dispatch, found him lying on the ground, bleeding and in considerable pain. According to the court, "[t]he police asked him what had happened, who had shot him, and where the shooting had occurred." In response to questions, the victim told the officers that the defendant had shot him about 30 minutes before at the defendant’s house. The victim died several hours later.

The only serious constitutional question was whether the victim’s statement was testimonial. (If Giles had come out the other way, there might have been an interesting issue whether the defendant had forfeited the confrontation right, and I think that would depend primarily on whether one thought it was humanely possible to take a deposition of the victim.) The crucial issue here is one of perspective. Given that the victim was lying on the ground, bleeding and badly wounded, when the police approached him, if one takes the perspective of the officers, knowing only what they knew at the very outset, then it might be plausible to conclude that their primary purpose was to respond to an ongoing emergency. That is essentially the position taken by the three dissenters. But the majority realized that this is the wrong perspective. It said:

Davis stated that “in the final analysis [it is] the declarant’s statements, not the interrogation’s questions, that the Confrontation Clause requires us to evaluate.” The declarant here (i.e., the victim) made these statements while he was surrounded by five police officers and knowing that emergency medical service (EMS) was on the way. Obviously, his primary purpose in making these statements to the police was not to enable the police to meet an ongoing emergency of the type identified by the United States Supreme Court, but was instead to tell the police who had committed the crime against him, where the crime had been committed, and where the police could find the criminal. That is, the primary purpose of the victim’s statements to the police was to “establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution.”