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Name: People v. Giles
Case #: S129852
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 03/05/2007

Under the “forfeiture by wrongdoing” doctrine, a defendant who kills the witness forfeits his right to confront the witness about her hearsay statements. Appellant was convicted of first degree murder for killing his ex-girlfriend. He admitted the killing, but claimed it was done in self defense. At trial, evidence of a previous incident of domestic violence was admitted, including the girlfriend’s statement that appellant had threatened to kill her. The appellate court upheld the admission of the statements, applying the doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing. The appellate court held that appellant could not challenge the denial of his right to confront the victim about the prior statements when it was his own criminal violence which made her unavailable for cross-examination. The California Supreme Court granted appellant’s petition for review to determine whether the appellate court properly applied the forfeiture by wrongdoing doctrine. The Court upheld the appellate court’s ruling and affirmed. If a witness’s unavailability was procured by the defendant’s wrongful acts, and the defendant benefits by the unavailability, the doctrine applies. It does not matter that the defendant’s intent was not to keep the witness from testifying. Nor does it matter that the act which procured the unavailability is the basis for the charged offense. There must be independent corroboration of the testimony, and it must be proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant procured the unavailability of the witness. Also, the witness’s statement must fall within a hearsay exception, and the probative value must outweigh the prejudicial effect. Here, the requisite corroboration existed, and the statements were properly admitted.