Second Degree Murder Supreme Court Case

In Michigan v. Bryant (2011) 562 U.S. 344, the defendant was convicted of second degree murder. The police responded to the victim's location and discovered he had been shot in the abdomen.

The victim told officers he had been at the defendant's home and had been shot through the back door. After being shot, he got in his car and drove to a gas station where officers found him. The victim later died. At trial, his statements to the officers were admitted as excited utterances. (Id. at pp. 350-352.)

Bryant held the victim's statements to the officers were not testimonial because an objective view of the totality of the circumstances established the primary purpose of the interrogation was to respond to an ongoing emergency. (Bryant, supra, 562 U.S. at pp. 368-372, 378.)

"The existence vel non of an ongoing emergency is not the touchstone of the testimonial inquiry; rather, the ultimate inquiry is whether the 'primary purpose of the interrogation was to enable police assistance to meet the ongoing emergency.' " (Id. at p. 374.)

Bryant compared the situation to being "more similar, though not identical, to the informal, harried 911 in Davis than to the structured, station-house interview in Crawford...." (Bryant, supra, 562 U.S. at p. 377.)

Bryant noted that a formal station-house interview is more likely to provoke testimonial statements, while less formal questioning is less likely to reflect a primary purpose aimed at obtaining testimonial evidence against an accused. (Id. at pp. 366, 377.)

When the police arrived, they found the victim lying in a gas station parking lot, bleeding from a mortal gunshot wound. The officers asked the victim what happened. The victim replied that the defendant shot him, explained the circumstances, and kept asking when emergency medical personnel would arrive. "From this description of his condition and report of his statements, we cannot say that a person in the victim's situation would have had a 'primary purpose' 'to establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution.' " (Id. at p. 375.)

The officers did not know anything about the circumstances of the shooting or the gunman's location, and their questions "solicited the information necessary to enable them 'to meet an ongoing emergency.' " (Id. at p. 376.)