Family Law Keyed to Weisberg

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White v. Illinois

Citation. White v. Ill., 502 U.S. 346, 112 S. Ct. 736, 116 L. Ed. 2d 848, 1992 U.S. LEXIS 378, 60 U.S.L.W. 4094, 33 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. (Callaghan) 881, 92 Cal. Daily Op. Service 485, 92 Daily Journal DAR 697 (U.S. Jan. 15, 1992)

Brief Fact Summary. Petitioner challenges the admissibility of hearsay declared admissible based on the spontaneous declaration and statement made in the course of receiving medical care exceptions to the hearsay rules.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. The spontaneous declaration and statement made in the course of receiving medical care exceptions to the hearsay rules due not violate the Petitioner’s Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause right.

Facts. Petitioner was convicted by a jury of aggravated criminal sexual assault, residential burglary, and unlawful restraint based upon the sexual assault of 4 year old S.G. Testimony at trial established that S.G.’s babysitter, DeVore, witnessed petitioner leaving S.G.’s bedroom. DeVore knew petitioner because he was a friend of S.G.’s mother. S.G. told DeVore that petitioner had put his hand over her mouth, choked her, threatened to whip her if she screamed and touched her in the vaginal area. Grigsby, S.G.’s mother, testified that her daughter appeared scared on her arrival and repeated the claims that she had told DeVore. Grigsby called the police, and a few minutes later S.G. repeated her story to Officer Lewis, and within four hours to Reents, an emergency room nurse, and to Dr. Meizen. During petitioner’s trial the State twice attempted to call S.G. as a witness but she experienced emotional difficulty. The trial court neither made, nor was it asked to make, a finding
that S.G. was unavailable to testify. Petitioner objected on hearsay grounds to the testimony of the five witnesses based on hearsay grounds. The trial court overruled each objection. With respect to DeVore, Grigsby, and Lewis, the trial court concluded that the testimony could be permitted pursuant to a hearsay exception for spontaneous declarations. Reents’ and Meinzen’s testimony was allowed based on both the spontaneous declaration exception and the exception for statements made in the course of securing medical treatment. The trial court also denied petitioner’s motion for a mistrial based on S.G.’s presence and failure to testify. Petitioner was found guilty, and the Illinois appellate court affirmed his conviction.

Issue. Did the trial court violate petitioner’s Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause right by permitting the challenged testimony?

Held. The spontaneous declarations and statements made in the course of receiving medical care exceptions do not violate petitioner’s Confrontation Clause right.
The evidentiary rationale for permitting hearsay testimony regarding spontaneous declarations and statements made in the course of receiving medical care is that they are made in contexts that provide substantial guarantees of their trustworthiness. The spontaneous declarations are made without the opportunity to reflect on the consequences of one’s exclamations, and the medical care statements are trustworthy because the declarant knows that a false statement may cause misdiagnosis or mistreatment.

The preference for live testimony derives from the importance of cross examination, therefore courts have adopted the general rule prohibiting the receipt of hearsay evidence. But where the hearsay has sufficient guarantees of reliability, the Confrontation Clause is satisfied.

The out-of-court statements admitted in this case had substantial probative value that could not be duplicated simply by the declarant later testifying in court. The Confrontation Clause has the basic purpose of promoting the integrity of the factfinding process, and these hearsay exceptions are so firmly rooted and trustworthy that adversarial testing can be expected to add little to its credibility.

Petitioner also points to prior precedent that considered the constitutionality of courtroom procedures designed to prevent child witnesses from having to face across an open courtroom a defendant charged with sexually assaulting the child. Petitioner claims that this precedent creates a general rule that hearsay testimony offered by a child should be permitted only where it is shown to be necessary to protect the child’s physical and psychological well-being. The precedent actually involved only what in-court procedures are constitutionally required to guarantee a defendant’s confrontation right once a witness is testifying. This question is separate fro that of what requirements the Confrontation Clause imposes as a predicate for the introduction of out-of-court declarations.

Discussion. The Court upholds the spontaneous declarations and statements made in the course of receiving medical care hearsay exceptions in the face of petitioner’s argument that this hearsay violated his constitutional right to confront and cross examine witnesses testifying against him.