Law School Case Brief
Michigan v. Bryant - 562 U.S. 344, 131 S. Ct. 1143 (2011)
The most important instances in which the Confrontation Clause restricts the introduction of out-of-court statements are those in which state actors are involved in a formal, out-of-court interrogation of a witness to obtain evidence for trial. Even where such an interrogation is conducted with all good faith, introduction of the resulting statements at trial can be unfair to the accused if they are untested by cross-examination. Whether formal or informal, out-of-court statements can evade the basic objective of the Confrontation Clause, which is to prevent the accused from being deprived of the opportunity to cross-examine the declarant about statements taken for use at trial. When the primary purpose of an interrogation is to respond to an ongoing emergency, its purpose is not to create a record for trial and thus is not within the scope of the Clause. But there may be other circumstances, aside from ongoing emergencies, when a statement is not procured with a primary purpose of creating an out-of-court substitute for trial testimony. In making the primary purpose determination, standard rules of hearsay, designed to identify some statements as reliable, will be relevant. Where no such primary purpose exists, the admissibility of a statement is the concern of state and federal rules of evidence, not the Confrontation Clause.
Police dispatched to a gas station parking lot and found Anthony Covington mortally wounded. He told them that he had been shot by Bryant outside Bryant's house and had then driven himself to the lot. The officers testified at trial about what Covington had told them. Covington was unavailable at trial because he had died shortly after the shooting. What Covington told the officers was that he fled Bryant's back porch, indicating that he perceived an ongoing threat. The police did not know, and Covington did not tell them, whether the threat was limited to him. Bryant was found guilty of second-degree murder. On appeal, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed his conviction, holding that the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause rendered a mortally wounded shooting victim's statements inadmissible testimonial hearsay.
Did the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause render a mortally wounded shooting victim's statements inadmissible testimonial hearsay?
The judgment of the Supreme Court of Michigan was vacated, and the case was remanded for further proceedings. The Court held that the informality of the exchange suggested that the officers' purpose was to address what they perceived to be an ongoing emergency. The circumstances lacked any formality that would have alerted Covington to or focused him on the possible future prosecutorial use of his statements. Because of these circumstances, Covington's identification and description of the shooter and the location of the shooting were not testimonial hearsay. The Confrontation Clause did not bar their admission at defendant's trial. The Court ,however, left it to the Michigan courts to decide on remand whether the statements' admission was otherwise permitted by state hearsay rules.
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