Statement of an Unavailable Witness Admissibility
Are Statement of an Unavailable Witness Admissible ?
In Lilly v. Virginia, 527 U.S. 116 (1999), the defendant, his brother Mark, and Gary Barker, were arrested after a two-day crime spree by the three which included stealing liquor and guns and resulted in the abduction of Alex DeFilippis.
DeFilippis was later shot and found dead.
During police questioning, Mark admitted stealing the alcoholic beverages, but claimed that the defendant and Barker stole the guns and that the defendant shot DeFilippis.
At defendant's trial, the State of Virginia called Mark as a witness and sought to have him testify to the statements that he made to the police.
The State subsequently was allowed to introduce the statements as declarations against interest of an unavailable witness.
On appeal, the Virginia Supreme Court approved the admission of the statements.
The United States Supreme Court accepted certiorari on the issue of whether introduction of this testimony violated Lilly's Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him, and reversed the Virginia decision.
The Court held:
"The decisive fact, which we make explicit today, is that accomplices' confessions that inculpate a criminal defendant are not within a firmly rooted exception to the hearsay rule as that concept has been defined in our Confrontation Clause jurisprudence." Id. at 134.
The Court also explained:
"It is highly unlikely that the presumptive unreliability that attaches to accomplices' confessions that shift or spread blame can be effectively rebutted when the statements are given under conditions that implicate the core concerns of the old ex parte affidavit practice--that is, when the government is involved in the statements' production, and when the statements describe past events and have not been subjected to adversarial testing." Id. at 137.
Applying these principles, the Court held it was error to admit Mark's statements even though other evidence at trial corroborated portions of Mark's statements and even though the police had informed him of his rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). (See id. 527 U.S. 137-38.)