Law School Case Brief
Mesa v. United States - 875 A.2d 79 (D.C. 2005)
The parties may provide direct evidence of their common law marriage. Other than the testimony of the parties claiming to be in a common law marriage, direct evidence may include deeds to property and tax returns. In addition, the existence of an agreement may be inferred from the character and duration of cohabitation, or from other circumstantial evidence such as testimony by relatives and acquaintances as to the general reputation regarding the parties' relationship. An inference may nevertheless be rebutted by direct evidence that, in fact, there was no present agreement.
A jury convicted appellant Joseph Mesa of multiple crimes, including two counts of first-degree murder while armed of Eric Plunkett and Benjamin Varner, in violation of D.C. Code §§ 22-2401, -3202 (1996), recodified at D. C. Code §§ 22-2101, -4502 (2001). He challenges the trial court's determination that he failed to establish the existence of a common law marriage with a government witness, and hence, he could not invoke the marital privilege to preclude her testimony against him, or the introduction of his letters to, and conversations with her. He also contends that the trial court erred by not granting his motion to suppress statements which he maintains were obtained in violation of (1) the Interpreters for Hearing Impaired and Non-English Speaking Persons Act of 1987 ("the Interpreter Act"), D.C. Code §§ 2-1901 et seq., and (2) his Miranda rights.
Did defendant meet his burden of showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he and the government witness had a common law marriage?
The Court held that defendant failed to sustain his burden of showing, by a preponderance of the evidence, that he and the government witness had a common law marriage, and hence, he was not entitled to invoke the marital privilege with respect to her testimony and his communications with her. The court further held that the trial court properly denied defendant's motion to suppress since neither the Interpreter Act nor his Miranda rights were violated.
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