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Under Iowa R. Evid. 5.804(b)(3), a statement against penal interest must have so far tended to inculpate the accused that a reasonable person in the declarant's position would not have made the statement unless believing it to be true. Iowa R. Evid. 5.804(b)(3). This requirement is designed to establish a threshold level of trustworthiness of the underlying statement.
Defendant was the father of a baby who sustained injury and was diagnosed with shaken baby syndrome. At the relevant time period in question, the child was in the sole care of his mother and defendant. Defendant was convicted of child endangerment resulting in serious injury. Defendant appealed his conviction, arguing that the district court erred in excluding hearsay statements made by the child's mother that she "may have" caused the baby's injuries. The court of appeals affirmed the defendant’s conviction. Defendant sought further review.
Did the district court err in excluding hearsay statements made by the child's mother that she "may have" caused the baby's injuries?
On review, the court held that the statements were admissible as statements against penal interest under Iowa R. Evid. 5.804(b)(3). The mother stated that defendant had not been the one who harmed the child; by making statements that exculpated defendant, the mother indirectly implicated herself as the person who caused the injuries. In addition, the mother made statements that were directly inculpatory. She stated that she yelled at the baby when he cried and had recently started spanking the baby for crying but claimed that she did not hurt him since he wore a diaper. Yelling at the baby showed an obvious lack of self-control, and spanking a two-month-old infant for crying was an admission of inappropriate behavior that could give rise to an inference that the mother was the person who injured the child.