Monday, September 20, 2004
C.A.: Stabbed Wife’s Dying Declaration Not Barred by Crawford
Court Rules Husband’s Wrongful Conduct Justified Admission of Even ‘Testimonial’ Evidence
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
The admission at a murder trial of a stabbed wife’s dying declaration implicating her husband did not violate the husband’s right to confront witnesses against him, the Fourth District Court of Appeal has ruled.
Div. Two, in an opinion filed late Thursday, rejected Ray Theodore Jiles’ contention that his second-degree murder conviction was tainted by use of statements made by his wife shortly after the 1989 stabbing. Jiles’ trial was delayed several times by questions about his competency, but he was finally tried and convicted last year.
Marion Jiles told a Chino police officer who responded to an emergency call in the early morning hours that her husband had stabbed her, but she lost consciousness soon afterward and died in the hospital as a result of a punctured lung. The statement was admitted at Ray Jiles’ trial before San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Frederick A. Mandabach, who ruled it qualified under the hearsay exception for spontaneous statements.
On appeal, Jiles’ attorney contended use of the statement violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in its March decision in Crawford v. Washington, 124 S.Ct. 1354. Crawford held that use of a witness’ testimonial out-of-court statement is barred under the Confrontation Clause unless the witness is unavailable and the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the witness.
Writing for himself and Justices Art W. McKinster and James D. Ward, Justice Barton C. Gaut said it was unnecessary for the court to decide whether the statement was “testimonial” within the meaning of Crawford.
“The Crawford court left unanswered the question of whether a dying declaration is admissible and whether such a statement to an officer is testimonial. Irrespective of whether the statement is testimonial, however, the Crawford court indicated that under the rule of forfeiture by wrongdoing the statement is not barred, even in the absence of the opportunity to cross-examine the witness.”
In a footnote to the majority opinion in Crawford, Gaut noted, the high court observed:
“Although many dying declarations may not be testimonial, there is authority for admitting even those that clearly are....We need not decide in this case whether the Sixth Amendment incorporates an exception for testimonial dying declarations. If this exception must be accepted on historical grounds, it is sui generis.”
Equitable principles, Gaut said, favor admitting a dying declaration despite the absence of an opportunity to cross-examine the declarant.
“While the Crawford court did not decide the issue of whether a dying declaration is admissible despite the defendant being deprived of the opportunity to cross-examine the witness, the Crawford court indicated such evidence might be admissible under equitable principles, and we adhere to this reasoning in concluding Marion’s statement is admissible, even assuming without deciding the statement was testimonial.”
Trial Court’s Ruling
Gaut conceded that, though prosecutors argued both theories of admissibility, Mandabach relied on the exception for spontaneous statements—not that for dying declarations—in allowing Marion Jiles’ statement to be used at her husband’s trial. But the justice said Gaut did not “definitively reject” the latter theory, and added there was sufficient evidence in the record to support admitting the statement on that ground.
Besides, he said, the equitable reasons for admitting the statement would be equally applicable whether it was admitted as a spontaneous statement or as a dying declaration.
Gaut went on to reject several other claims advanced by Jiles.
Incriminating statements Jiles made to police after invoking his Miranda rights were properly admitted, the appellate jurist said, since police did not initiate further questioning. Rather, Gaut noted, it was Jiles who insisted on talking to an officer about whether his wife was still alive or not.
The officer reminded him that he had already invoked his right to counsel, and Jiles confirmed that he wished to speak anyway.
The finding that Jiles was sane at the time of the murder was supported by substantial evidence, Gaut said, pointing out that though two experts said he was not, two others—appointed by the court and with substantial experience in criminal cases—opined that he was.
“Even though there is evidence supporting an insanity finding,” the justice wrote, “applying the substantial evidence standard of review, we conclude the jury’s sanity finding is supported both by the sanity presumption and other substantial evidence.”
The case is People v. Jiles, 04 S.O.S. 5081.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company