California Evidence Code Section 1230 - Interpretation

Evidence Code section 1230 (section 1230) provides: "Evidence of a statement by a declarant having sufficient knowledge of the subject is not made inadmissible by the hearsay rule if the declarant is unavailable as a witness and the statement, when made, was so far contrary to the declarant's pecuniary or proprietary interest, or so far subjected him to the risk of civil or criminal liability, or so far tended to render invalid a claim by him against another, or created such a risk of making him an object of hatred, ridicule, or social disgrace in the community, that a reasonable man in his position would not have made the statement unless he believed it to be true." The proponent of such evidence must show that the declarant is unavailable, that the declaration was against the declarant's penal interest when made, and that the declaration was sufficiently reliable to warrant admission despite its hearsay character. ( People v. Duarte (2000) 24 Cal.4th 603, 610-611.) To determine whether a statement is trustworthy enough to be admitted under section 1230, a court may take into account "'not just the words but the circumstances under which they were uttered, the possible motivation of the declarant, and the declarant's relationship to the defendant.'" (People v. Cudjo (1993) 6 Cal.4th 585, 607.) 1. In People v. Duke (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 23, the Court applied similar criteria in assessing the trustworthiness of a declaration against interest for purposes of the confrontation clause. The Court concluded the statement at issue was sufficiently trustworthy because the declarant made the statement voluntarily and spontaneously to a friend shortly after committing the crimes and before he was even a suspect, described the crimes in detail and explained his motive for committing them, had no apparent motive to lie, and did not attempt to shift blame or deny his involvement. ( People v. Duke, supra, 74 Cal.App.4th at pp. 30-31.) The Court found these facts distinguished the case from Lilly v. Virginia, in which the statements against interest were made while the declarant was in custody, primarily in response to law enforcement officers' leading questions, and while the declarant was under the influence of alcohol. ( Duke, supra, at pp. 30-31.) 2. In People v. Gordon (1990) 50 Cal.3d 1223, the Supreme Court held it was proper to admit, under Evidence Code section 1230, a declarant's statement that he had given medical treatment to the defendant and another man who had suffered gunshot wounds while committing a robbery and murder. The declarant said he had recommended the defendant go to the hospital, but it was decided he should do so only after the gunshot wounds had healed. After the wounds healed, the declarant took the defendant to a hospital. ( Id., at p. 1249.) The Supreme Court concluded the declarant "all but confessed that he was an accessory" to the robbery and murder. Although the court acknowledged that the declarant "did not expressly admit" either intent to aid in the crimes or knowledge that the crimes had been committed, it concluded "he impliedly admitted both by his suspicious conduct throughout the incident in question." ( People v. Gordon, supra, 50 Cal.3d at p. 1252.) 3. In People v. Shipe (1975) 49 Cal.App.3d 343, 354, the court held that: "To satisfy the requirements of section 1230 of the Evidence Code . . . a declaration against penal interest must be 'distinctly' against the declarant's penal interest citation and must be clothed with indicia of reliability; such indicia of reliability are lacking where the declaration is made to authorities after the declarant has been arrested and charged with a serious offense or after he has pled guilty to a lesser offense and is awaiting sentencing and where, as here, the statement is exculpatory in the sense that the declarant has blamed a coparticipant for the commission of the greater offense while admitting complicity to some lesser degree." (accord, People v. Jackson (1991) 235 Cal.App.3d 1670, 1678; see People v. Bullard (1977) 75 Cal.App.3d 764, 770; People v. Coble (1976) 65 Cal.App.3d 187, 191.)