Law School Case Brief
Garza v. Delta Tau Delta Fraternity Nat'l - 05-1508 ( La. 07/10/2006), 948 So. 2d 84
The rule for admitting a dying declaration was and is intended to allow a declaration by a person who is faced with an unexpected, mortal injury and cast by circumstances into a premature realization of certain death. The rule is in conflict when the declarant takes her own life. When the wrongful death sued upon is inflicted by the declarant herself, her statement that death is imminent is merely self-serving and lacking in any recognized motivation to tell the truth. Citing Augustus, the Supreme Court of Louisiana has established a test for determining whether a declarant's statement was made with a sense of impending death: the more serious the injury and impairment of the declarant's physical condition, the more probable is his belief that the end is near. The very nature of death by hanging prevents the application of this test in determining the admissibility of a suicide note, as there is no physical injury or impairment at the time the declaration is made.
Before committing suicide, the decedent wrote a suicide note contended that she had been raped and continually harassed by the fraternity member. The lower court held that a suicide note was admission as a dying declaration under La. Code Evid. Ann. art. 804(B)(2).
Did the lower court err in holding that a suicide note was admissible La. Code Evid. Ann. art. 804(B)(2)?
The note was not admissible under La. Code Evid. Ann. art. 804(B)(2) as a dying declaration because it did not qualify as a statement under belief of impending death. At the time the note was written, the decedent was not dying; the mortal wound had not been inflicted. As such, death was not imminent or impending as those words were used in art. 804(B)(2). Additionally, it was undisputed that the decedent's death occurred some months after the alleged rape. The note was not admissible under La. Code Evid. Ann. art. 803(3) because the first part of the note, during which the decedent stated that she had been thinking about suicide for months, did not deal directly with her present state of mind. The second part of the note could not be admitted under art. 803(3) because it included accusations against the fraternity member and others.
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