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Name: People v. Gray (2023) 15 Cal.5th 152
Case #: S269237
Court: CA Supreme Court
Opinion Date: 08/14/2023

Opinion by: Chief Justice Guerrero (unanimous decision). Justice Groban also filed a concurring opinion.

In probation revocation hearings, due process requires that trial courts determine on a case-by-case basis whether spontaneous hearsay statements are admissible. Gray was charged with inflicting corporal injury upon N.S., and violating his probation. An officer’s body-worn camera captured N.S.’s statements regarding the incident. N.S. subsequently recanted and failed to appear at Gray’s criminal trial. N.S.’s statements on the video were held inadmissible under the confrontation clause, and the criminal proceeding was dismissed. However, the trial court found a violation of probation, relying on N.S.’s statements on the video. Gray appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that spontaneous statements are categorically admissible at a probation revocation hearing. The California Supreme Court granted review to resolve a conflict in the Courts of Appeal on this issue. Held: Reversed. While a defendant at a probation revocation hearing has no Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses, due process principles provide the defendant the right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses unless the hearing officer finds good cause for not allowing confrontation. After analyzing relevant case law, the Supreme Court concluded that spontaneous statements under Evidence Code section 1240 are not so inherently reliable that they automatically satisfy a probationer’s due process confrontation/cross-examination rights. Instead, a trial court must apply the balancing test set forth in People v. Arreola (1994) 7 Cal.4th 1144 to determine on a case-by-case basis whether testimonial spontaneous statements are admissible at a revocation hearing, balancing the defendant’s interests in confronting a hearsay declarant against the government’s countervailing interests in presenting the evidence without the declarant’s presence. [Editor’s Notes: (1) The court disapproved People v. Stanphill (2009) 170 Cal.App.4th 61, to the extent it is inconsistent with the holding in this case. (2) Justice Groban wrote a separate concurring opinion to emphasize that, as part of the balancing test set forth in Arreola, the trial court should consider the potential for emotional or mental harm to the witness as a factor relevant to the state’s demonstration of good cause.]