OCGA 24-3-2 Interpretation
What Measures Should Prosecutors and Trial Judges take That O.C.G.A. 24-3-2 'To Explain Conduct' Is Contained Within Proper Limits ?
In Momon v. State, 249 Ga. 865 (294 S.E.2d 482) (1982), our Supreme Court held:
To prevent an overly broad interpretation of O.C.G.A. 24-3-2, the Court adopt the following:
When, in a legal investigation, the conduct and motives of the actor are matters concerning which the truth must be found (i.e., are relevant to the issues on trial), then information, conversations, letters and replies, and similar evidence known to the actor are admissible to explain the actor's conduct. Green, Ga. Law of Evidence, 300 (1957); Brewer v. Henson, 96 Ga. App. 501, 502 (100 S.E.2d 661) (1957).
But where the conduct and motives of the actor are not matters concerning which the truth must be found (i.e., are irrelevant to the issues on trial) then the information, etc., on which he or she acted shall not be admissible under O.C.G.A. 24-3-2.
Then, in Teague v. State, 252 Ga. 534 (314 S.E.2d 910) (1984), the Supreme Court again visited the problem of the trial courts' and this court's overly broad use of O.C.G.A. 24-3-2.
Explaining the need for the Momon rule, the court stated:
The necessity for this interpretation will be seen, we believe, from the fact that almost all conduct of almost all people can be "explained" almost always by something which they may have heard or read.
Following the literal language of the Code section to its logical conclusion would, therefore, authorize the conviction of a citizen solely upon the testimony of an investigating officer, who, "to explain conduct" in initiating and continuing his investigation, might recount to the jury everything which he had heard or read about the case.
That is trial by dossier, for every element of an investigation can serve, in some manner, to "explain conduct" of the investigator. Id. at 535 (1).
The court went further to state that: only in rare instances will the "conduct" of an investigating officer need to be "explained," as in practically every case, the motive, intent, or state of mind of such an officer will not be "matters concerning which the truth must be found."
At heart, a criminal prosecution is designed to find the truth of what a defendant did, and, on occasion, of why he did it.
It is most unusual that a prosecution will properly concern itself with why an investigating officer did something.
If the hearsay rule is to remain a part of our law, then O.C.G.A. 24-3-2 (Code Ann. 38-302) must be contained within its proper limit.
Otherwise, the repetition of the rote words "to explain conduct" can become imprimatur for the admission of rumor, gossip, and speculation. Id. at 536 (1).
The court concluded with this warning:
"Prosecutors and trial judges would be well advised to walk wide of error in the proffer and admission of evidence under the provisions of O.C.G.A. 24-3-2 (Code Ann. 38-302)." Id. at 537 (3).
Today, the Court abandoned the rules announced in Momon and Teague.