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Law School Case Brief

State v. Williams - 306 Kan. 175, 392 P.3d 1267 (2017)


In State v. Brown, the Supreme Court of Kansas synthesized a multifactor system for courts to use when determining whether an out-of-court statement by a nontestifying declarant is testimonial under the Confrontation Clause. The factors are: (1) Would an objective witness reasonably believe such a statement would later be available for use in the prosecution of a crime? (2) Was the statement made to a law enforcement officer or to another government official? (3) Was proof of facts potentially relevant to a later prosecution of a crime the primary purpose of the interview when viewed from an objective totality of the circumstances, including circumstances of whether (a) the declarant was speaking about events as they were actually happening, instead of describing past events; (b) the statement was made while the declarant was in immediate danger, i.e., during an ongoing emergency; (c) the statement was made in order to resolve an emergency or simply to learn what had happened in the past; and (d) the interview was part of a governmental investigation; and (4) Was the level of formality of the statement sufficient to make it inherently testimonial; e.g., was the statement made in response to questions, was the statement recorded, was the declarant removed from third parties, or was the interview conducted in a formal setting such as in a governmental building? 


Special Agent Michael Lind met with a confidential informant to set up a purchase of methamphetamine from defendant David Darrel Williams. The informant arranged a meeting with Williams during a telephone call in which Williams gave the informant directions to his location. After the call, Lind drove with the informant to meet Williams. As Lind and the informant reached the meeting place, Williams walked out to the sidewalk. Lind stopped the car, and Williams got into the back passenger seat. Williams asked if Lind and the informant "wanted a line." At trial, Lind testified that this "could mean a line of methamphetamine, as a way of ingesting the drugs." Williams asked Lind to drive to another location. Lind did so. Williams then removed a small plastic baggie from his pocket and placed it on the center console. Lind paid Williams $120 of "Drug Enforcement Unit buy money." Lind then drove Williams back to where he had picked him up. After dropping Williams off, Lind drove to another location and conducted a field test on the substance in the baggie. The test confirmed that the substance was methamphetamine. The conversation that took lave in Lind's car was recorded. Williams was arrested and charged with distribution of methamphetamine. At trial in Kansas state court, Williams specifically complained about two statements from the informant, which, he argued, identified him and the content of the baggie. The district court judge overruled the defense objection and allowed the entire recording to be played to the jury. The judge concluded that there was no Confrontation Clause problem because the informant's statements did not qualify as testimonial. The jury found Williams guilty, and the district judge sentenced Williams to 49 months in prison, followed by 24 months' post-release supervision. Williams appealed to the court of appeals, arguing that the challenged informant's statements were testimonial. The court of appeals affirmed the district court judgment. Williams was granted a petition for review.


Could an audio recording of a non-testifying informant's statements be admitted into evidence in a criminal trial without violating the defendant's right to confront witnesses under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Crawford v. Washington?




The state supreme court affirmed the lower courts' judgments. The court held that the two statements of the non-testifying informant were testimonial as their content reinforced evidence of the identity of the seller, Williams, and the substance purchased, illegal drugs, and the admission of those statements without providing Williams an opportunity to cross-examine the informant was error. However, the court ruled, the error was harmless given the overwhelming weight of the other evidence against Williams.

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