Friday, February 7, 2003
Adultery Admission Properly Admitted Under Hearsay Exception—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A woman’s admission to her husband of an affair, made shortly before her lover was killed, was properly used to convict her husband of the murder, the Fifth District Court of Appeal had ruled.
The court Wednesday affirmed T.J. Wheeler’s conviction of first degree murder in the shooting death of Ruben Sanchez, along with convictions of attempted voluntary manslaughter of Sanchez’s brother and shooting at an occupied dwelling, along with enhancements under the “10-20-Life” law making it highly unlikely Wheeler will ever qualify for a parole hearing.
A witness testified that Wheeler came to Sanchez’s home, armed, fired three rounds through the door at Sanchez’s brother, then fired three more shots before fleeing.
After the last shots, the witness said, he saw Sanchez fall to the ground, mortally wounded.
Prior to Wheeler’s trial in Tulare Superior Court, prosecutors moved to admit evidence that Gracie Wheeler had admitted her affair with Sanchez to her husband before Sanchez was shot. After Gracie Wheeler invoked her spousal privilege not to testify, Judge Martin Staven granted the motion, citing the social interest exception to the hearsay rule and finding the evidence admissible to show motive.
Justice Gene Gomes, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the statement was properly admitted. California, the justice explained, is one of a minority of jurisdictions that recognize the social interest exception.
The exception, made part of the Evidence Code when first adopted in 1965, holds that a hearsay statement may be admitted if it subjects the declarant to a risk of “hatred, ridicule, or social disgrace” such that it is reasonable to believe the declarant would not have made the statement unless true.
An admission of adultery, Gomes said, is at least as likely to qualify as an unmarried woman’s acknowledgment of pregnancy or a man’s of impotence, traditional bases for applying the exception.
Gomes distinguished a California Supreme Court case holding that the exception did not apply to a prisoner’s admission that he lied when testifying against the person who allegedly solicited him to offer a bribe.
In that case, Gomes explained, the Supreme Court reasoned that an admission of perjury would not necessarily impair an inmate’s standing in the prison community. “In the case at bar, on the other hand, nothing in the record suggests Gracie’s statement about adultery could possibly have improved her social standing with anyone.”
West Hills attorney Cara DeVito was Wheeler’s court-appointed appellate counsel. Deputy Attorneys General Stephen G. Herndon and David A. Etheridge represented the prosecution.
The case is People v. Wheeler, 03 S.O.S. 738.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company