Thursday, August 28, 2008
Court of Appeal Upholds Admission of Certified Rap Sheets as Evidence
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Sixth Amendment right of confrontation does not bar admission of a certified rap sheet, the First District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Div. Five affirmed Charles J. Morris’ conviction on a charge of grand theft. The panel threw out a conviction of receiving stolen property, on the ground that the defendant was improperly convicted of stealing and receiving the same property, but because the sentences were concurrent, the length of Morris’ prison term remains four years.
Jurors found him guilty after prosecutors presented evidence that he was arrested after a traffic stop in which he failed to produce a license or other identification, and was found in possession of bolt cutters, gloves, a woman’s purse, and multiple keys to new cars
The keys came from a vehicle dealership in the area that had just received the cars.
Following the verdict, prosecutors presented a rap sheet obtained via the California Law Enforcement Communications System as evidence the defendant had served two prior prison terms, as alleged for enhancement purposes. Solano Superior Court Judge Allen P. Carter admitted the sheet over defense objection, found the enhancement allegations true, and sentenced Morris to two years in prison, plus two years on the enhancements.
On appeal, the defense argued that the rap sheet constituted testimonial hearsay, inadmissible under the Sixth Amendment as defined in Crawford v. Washington (2004) 541 U.S. 36.
But Justice Patricia Sepulveda, writing for the Court of Appeal, explained that rap sheets are admissible under the public record exception to the hearsay rule, and said they are not “testimonial” within the meaning of Crawford “because they are not prepared for the primary purpose of criminal prosecution.”
“[I]f CLETS rap sheets were determined to be testimonial hearsay, the results would be absurd. Were Crawford to apply to such compilations of information, the hearsay declarants would either have to testify at trial, or be unavailable to testify with defendant having had the prior opportunity to cross examine them, in order not to violate defendant’s confrontation rights. Rap sheets involve multiple levels of hearsay. For example, an entry documenting a defendant’s arrest for robbery may trace its source through the arresting officer who files a police report, to a data entry clerk at the police department who completes a form documenting the arrest and forwards it to DOJ, through a clerk at DOJ who receives the report and enters the information into its computer system. Any CLETS rap sheet, and indeed any one entry or series of entries relating to a single conviction recorded in the rap sheet, may implicate several hearsay declarants. Would each such declarant have to testify (or would the defendant have had the opportunity to cross examine each unavailable declarant)?”
In an unpublished portion of the opinion, the justice said there was sufficient evidence that the value of the stolen items exceeded the $400 dividing line between petty theft and grand theft. She cited police testimony that the keys were for new cars, and the testimony of a part-owner/bookkeeper for the dealership, who said the keys were worth $1,000.
The case is People v. Morris, A119162
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