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Morales v. Portundo

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Brief Fact Summary. Jose Morales (Petitioner) was convicted of murder and imprisoned. Petitioner now seeks a writ of habeas corpus, arguing that his due process rights were violated by the trial court’s exclusion of statements made by Jesus Fornes (Fornes), who confessed that he had committed the murder for which Petitioner was convicted.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. At a criminal defendant’s trial, when statements are excluded that bear sufficient indicia of reliability and trustworthiness, and further meet the requirements of the hearsay exception for declarations against penal interest and/or the residual hearsay exception, the exclusion of the statements is a violation of the criminal defendant’s due process rights.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

The hearsay rule, which has long been recognized and respected by virtually every State, is based on experience and grounded in the notion that untrustworthy evidence should not be presented to the triers of fact, Out-of-court statements are traditionally excluded because they lack the conventional indicia of reliability: they are usually not made under oath or other circumstances that impress the speaker with the solemnity of his statements; the declarant's word is not subject to cross-examination; and he is not available in order that his demeanor and credibility may be assessed by the jury.

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Facts. Petitioner was convicted of murder, along with a co-defendant, after a man was beaten and stabbed to death. Following Petitioner’s conviction and just before the court sentenced Petitioner, Fornes made various statements to a priest, co-defendant’s mother, Petitioner’s attorney, and a Legal Aid attorney; in those statements, Fornes confessed that he was guilty of the murder, and that Petitioner and co-defendant were innocent.
A post-trial motion to set aside the verdict was filed, but Fornes invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and did not testify. The priest also refused to reveal the statements due to the privilege of penitent.

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