Williamson v. United States

In Williamson v. United States, 512 U.S. 594 (1994), the defendant was charged with possessing cocaine with intent to distribute, conspiring to possess cocaine with intent to distribute, and traveling interstate to promote the distribution of cocaine. At trial, the prosecution's chief witness, the defendant's accomplice, Reginald Harris, refused to testify against the defendant. The district court ruled that the officer in charge of the investigation, who had interrogated Harris, could testify regarding statements Harris made during the interrogation that inculpated the defendant. The defendant was ultimately convicted and he appealed his conviction, claiming that the admission of Harris' statements violated FRE 804(b)(3) and the Confrontation Clause. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. Williamson v. United States, 981 F.2d 1262 (CA 11, 1992). On appeal, the United States Supreme Court vacated the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruling and remanded, holding: In our view, the most faithful reading of FRE 804(b)(3) is that it does not allow admission of non-self-inculpatory statements, even if they are made within a broader narrative that is generally self-inculpatory. Williamson, supra, 512 U.S. 600-601. The Williamson Court thus remanded for an evidentiary hearing regarding the admissibility of Harris' non-self-inculpatory statements. The Court noted that out-of-court statements made by codefendants traditionally have been viewed with suspicion and are deemed less credible than other hearsay evidence because of the strong motivation of the codefendant to implicate the other defendant and exonerate himself. Id. at 601. However, "confessions of arrested accomplices may be admissible if they are truly self-inculpatory, rather than merely attempts to shift blame or curry favor." Id. at 603. Therefore, whether a statement is truly self-inculpatory, and thus clearly admissible, can be determined only by viewing it in light of all the surrounding circumstances. Id. at 603-604. The Court ultimately concluded that while some of Harris' confession would be clearly admissible--those statements that were truly self-inculpatory--other statements that implicated the defendant did little to subject Harris himself to criminal liability, and were, therefore, not clearly admissible under FRE 804(b)(3). Williamson, supra, 512 U.S. 604. The Court considered rule 804(b)(3) of the Federal Rules of Evidence (28 U.S.C.), which states a hearsay exception for declarations against penal interest similar to that contained in Evidence Code section 1230. The Williamson court interpreted the federal rule "in much the same fashion" as our Supreme Court has construed Evidence Code section 1230 . (People v. Greenberger (1997)) The court held that the rule "does not allow admission of non-self-inculpatory statements, even if they are made within a broader narrative that is generally self-inculpatory." ( Williamson, supra, 521 U.S. at pp. 600-601.) It further held that the question whether a statement is self-inculpatory or not "can only be determined by viewing it in context" ( id. at p. 603) and "in light of all the surrounding circumstances" ( id. at p. 604). The Williamson court indicated that, by identifying another perpetrator, a statement may be rendered inculpatory of the declarant: "Even statements that are on their face neutral may actually be against the declarant's interest. 'I hid the gun in Joe's apartment' may not be a confession of a crime; but if it is likely to help the police find the murder weapon, then it is certainly self-inculpatory. 'Sam and I went to Joe's house' might be against the declarant's interest if a reasonable person in the declarant's shoes would realize that being linked to Joe and Sam would implicate the declarant in Joe and Sam's conspiracy. And other statements that give the police significant details about the crime may also, depending on the situation, be against the declarant's interest." ( Williamson, supra, 512 U.S. at p. 603.) In a concurring opinion, Justice Scalia expressed a similar view: "[A] declarant's statement is not magically transformed from a statement against penal interest into one that is inadmissible merely because the declarant names another person or implicates a possible codefendant. For example, if a lieutenant in an organized crime operation described the inner workings of an extortion and protection racket, naming some of the other actors and thereby inculpating himself on racketeering and/or conspiracy charges, I have no doubt that some of those remarks could be admitted as statements against penal interest." ( Id. at pp. 606-607 [Scalia, J., concurring].) In Williamson v. United States, the prosecution sought to introduce the hearsay narrative of the defendant's drug courier. The admitted narrative contained both disserving and self-serving statements. The Court held the word "statement" in Federal Rule of Evidence 804(b)(3) meant "a single declaration or remark . . . ." Williamson, 512 U.S. at 599. Given this definition, the Court concluded the trial court erroneously admitted portions of the hearsay narrative not against the declarant's interest, along with portions that were against the declarant's interest. The Court reasoned that reasonable people "tend not to make self-inculpatory statements unless they believe them to be true. This notion simply does not extend to the broader definition of 'statement.' The fact that a person is making a broadly self-inculpatory confession does not make more credible the confession's non-self-inculpatory parts." Williamson, 512 U.S. at 599. Williamson rejected what is called the "whole statement" approach; its holding requires the federal courts to examine a proffered hearsay narrative, separate the inculpatory portions from those that are self-serving, and redact the narrative to exclude the self-serving statements. Williamson, 512 U.S. at 603. see also 5C KARL B. TEGLAND, WASHINGTON PRACTICE: EVIDENCE 804.36 (4th ed. 1999).