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Court Discusses Hearsay Evidence

On April 14, 1972, a New York Drug Crime Lawyer said a reputed bookmaker and his wife and sister-in-law were at home relaxing. Two masked men forced their way into the home in Huntington, Suffolk County. After ransacking the house and stealing any valuables that were on hand, the men shot the bookmaker in the head. His wife was also shot and suffered from memory loss due to a stroke. She was never able to remember that night so she was unable to assist law enforcement in the investigation.

A New York Drug Possession Lawyer said then, in December of that year, the investigators were informed that a nineteen-year-old woman and her boyfriend/employer had information about the murder. The two had been arrested in reference to an unrelated kidnapping. Detectives were sent to interview the woman since they had not had any leads and the case had grown stale. She related that the night of the murder, she had been at her boyfriend’s house. She stated that she heard a heated discussion in reference to a crime, so she pretended to be asleep. What she stated that she overheard was a conversation between the defendant, his brother-in-law, another man, and her boyfriend about the murder. She heard the one man tell her boyfriend that he had shot the bookmaker. The defendant stated that he had shot the bookmaker’s wife. Her boyfriend talked about remaining in the car outside and how he had told the other two to only rob them and not to shoot anybody. The woman also stated that although her boyfriend had told her just the day before that he did not have any money, he gave her $25 the day after the murder. He had also told her several days before that he was going to rip off a bookie.

Within days of being interviewed by the detectives, she went to the office of the District Attorney in Queens, New York and began plea negotiations on the kidnapping indictment. The woman committed suicide before she was called to the stand to testify on the murder case. The detective was allowed to testify to the information that she had given him at trial as a declaration against her penal and pecuniary interest. A Nassau County Drug Possession Lawyer said her mother was also allowed to testify to conversations that she had with her daughter before her daughter’s death. She stated that she had asked her daughter for some money. Her daughter had told her that she could not afford to give her the $15 that the mother requested because she did not have it. She stated that her daughter told her that she would have it in a few days because her boyfriend was going to commit a gun crime against a bookie on Long Island who owed him money. The mother stated that the weekend following the murder, her daughter gave her the $15. She stated that when she heard about the murder, she asked her daughter if the boyfriend was involved. Her daughter told her at that time that he was not. However, she stated that after meeting with the detectives, she had contacted her mother and told her the same thing that she told the detective. The mother testified that when her daughter told her about the incident, she did not mention the names of the defendant or the other man who was present.

Within days of the first meeting with the woman, the detectives had secured arrests on the defendant, the other man, and the boyfriend for murder, burglary, and robbery. The defendant who was functionally illiterate signed a statement, which detailed his involvement in the same light that the woman had reflected it. The statement was written by the detective and witnessed by him and another detective. The defendant later testified that he was not informed of his Miranda rights and that he had not dictated that statement. He stated that he had signed the paper after hours of interrogation, beatings, and threats. These claims presented issues of fact that were extensively litigated by both sides. Ultimately, the facts were resolved in favor of the police officers. The resulting statements was admitted at trial. The defendant was assigned a court appointed attorney to represent him. Two weeks after his arrest while he was incarcerated in the county jail, the defendant advised a Lieutenant at the Jail that he wanted to make a statement. He advised the Lieutenant that he had been at the murder location in the car outside the house, but that he had not gone inside. The defendant’s attorney made a motion to suppress the statement. The trial Judge denied the motion because it was made voluntarily and as a spontaneous utterance.

The defendant’s case was separated from the other defendants in the case in October, 1973. There was no identification evidence linking him to the crime. None of the other defendants testified at his trial. The entire case was established on the substance of out-of-court statements. Some of those statements, the most damning ones, were made by the woman. At the time of this trial, she had already committed suicide and was unable to testify. The others were the ones made to the detective and the one made to the Lieutenant. He was found guilty to each of the counts and sentenced to twenty years to life on the murder conviction alone. The other offenses received lesser time to run concurrently with the sentence for the murder.

Six months later, the cases against the remaining defendants: the other man and the boyfriend, were dismissed. The trial Judge in that case found that since the woman was dead, that it was impossible for the prosecution to establish a prima facie case. The case of the defendant went to appeal and the conviction was upheld.

The defendant’s gun crime attorney submitted a request to have the judgment set aside and a new trial ordered. A Queens Drug Possession Lawyer said he cited that the defendant’s statement in the jail to the Lieutenant was not made as a spontaneous utterance that could allow for an absence of the defendant’s attorney. Rather, he maintains that the mere fact that the defendant was incarcerated would have enabled the officer to wait until the attorney could be notified and present.

Additionally, he argues that admitting the hearsay testimony of the deceased woman did not qualify as a declaration against interest exception to the hearsay rule. The concept of a statement made as a declaration against interest is that most people do not make statements against their own interests. When a person does make a statement of that nature, it is believed that he must be responding to a truth-revealing compulsion as strong as if he was cross-examined as a witness.

In this case, the court decided that it was an error against law to allow the dead woman’s mother to testify to what her daughter had said to her since it was in no way a declaration against interest. Since, there was no acceptable exception to the hearsay rule she should not have been allowed to testify. The court also determined that the sentence should be reversed based on the fact that the woman had ulterior motives to make the statements. The spontaneity involved in the statement to the Lieutenant was considered admissible, but since the rest of the testimony was not, the case was overturned.

Stephen Bilkis & Associates with

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