August 20, 2017

Colorado Supreme Court: Nontestimonial Hearsay Statements do Not Implicate Defendant’s Right to Confrontation

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Nicholls v. People on Monday, June 19, 2017.

Criminal Trials—Right of Accused to Confront Witnesses—Exceptions to Hearsay Rule—Statements Against Interest.

In light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Davis v. Washington, 547 U.S. 813 (2006), the Colorado Supreme Court held that nontestimonial hearsay statements do not implicate a defendant’s state constitutional right to confrontation, overruling Compan v. People, 121 P.3d 876 (Colo. 2005), which held otherwise. Because the hearsay statements at issue in this case were nontestimonial, they did not implicate Colorado’s Confrontation Clause, and the court of appeals did not err in concluding that defendant’s confrontation right was not violated. The court further held that the third requirement for the admission of inculpatory hearsay statements against interest, announced in People v. Newton, 966 P.2d 563, 576 (Colo. 1998) (requiring corroborating circumstances to demonstrate the statement’s trustworthiness), is not constitutionally required for nontestimonial statements against interest. To admit a third party’s nontestimonial statements against interest under the version of CRE 804(b)(3) that existed at the time of defendant’s 2008 trial, only two conditions needed to be satisfied: (1) the witness must have been unavailable, and (2) the statement must have tended to subject the declarant to criminal liability. The court concluded that the third party’s nontestimonial statements against interest satisfied these two requirements, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting these statements as a statement against interest under CRE 804(b)(3), as that rule existed at the time of defendant’s trial. Finally, the court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting testimony about defendant’s response to the death of her second child because the testimony was relevant and not unduly prejudicial; nor did the trial court plainly err in admitting testimony about the cause of the second child’s death because the brief, isolated statements did not so undermine the trial’s fairness as to cast serious doubt on the reliability of defendant’s conviction. Accordingly, the court of appeals’ judgment was affirmed.

Summary provided courtesy of The Colorado Lawyer.

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