Monday, February 28, 2011

Supreme Court Creates New Exception To Hearsay Rule

Today, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a Michigan case and created a entirely new exception to the hearsay rule.  The 6th Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that a defendant has a right to confront the witnesses that will testify against him.  But in today's case, the Supreme Court announced that when the police are investigating an "ongoing emergency" they can ask a victim or a witness about what happened and use the statements they make in court against a defendant.  The case began when Detroit police went to a parking lot in response to a call that someone had been shot.  Anthony Covington told the police that he had been shot by "Rick" and told them where "Rick" lived.  Covington was taken to the hospital and later died.  The police went to Richard Bryant's home and found blood on the back porch of Bryant's home.  They also discovered that Bryant had previously been convicted of murder.  Bryant was convicted of Covington's murder after Covington's statement was used at the trial.  The Michigan Supreme Court overturned the conviction holding that Covington's statement was hearsay and should not have been used at Bryant's trial.  The United States Supreme Court overturned the Michigan Supreme Court and held that where the primary purpose of the police is to deal with an "ongoing emergency" as opposed to an investigation, statements made during the event can be used against the defendant.  Justice Scalia issued a scathing dissent in which he criticized the majority for "leaving the Constitution in shambles.  The only other judge dissenting was Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

The case is Michigan v. Bryant, 09-150.

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