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Name: People v. Gutierrez
Case #: S073253
Court: CA Supreme Court
District CalSup
Opinion Date: 02/19/2009
Summary

Erroneous admission of hearsay statements claimed to be spontaneous statements does not necessarily implicate the Confrontation Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Appellant was convicted of second degree murder and murder, and sentenced to death. The second degree murder dealt with the strangling death of appellant’s estranged wife. According to the evidence, appellant and two companions went to the home of his wife and their three-year-old son. Appellant and his wife became involved in an argument. Appellant’s wife was strangled and she died shortly later in the hospital. At trial a detective testified that approximately two months after the death, the victim’s sister contacted him and told him that she had taken the three-year-old child to the cemetery to visit the grave of his mother. On the way, the child became upset and stated that: “Daddy and his mean friend tied up his mommy,” and pointed to his neck while he made the statement. The trial court permitted the testimony over appellant’s objection, finding the statement to fall within the spontaneous exception to the hearsay rule. The Supreme Court found error, noting that the crucial element in determining whether a statement is “spontaneous” is the mental statement of the speaker. Although length of time between the startling event and the statement is not necessarily dispositive, it is a factor in determining whether the speaker is still under the stress of the event such that the reflective faculties are stilled and the utterance is an instinctive and uninhibited expression of the speaker’s actual impressions and belief. Here, there was nothing to indicate that the child was still under the stress of the event and the court abused its discretion in permitting the evidence. Despite the error, reversal was not warranted because the profuse circumstantial evidence presented made it not more probable that absent the testimony, a verdict more favorable to appellant would have been returned. (People v. Watson (1956) 46 Cal.2d 818.) The Court also noted that this hearsay evidence was not testimonial evidence and, therefore, did not implicate appellant’s Sixth Amendment right to confrontation. (Crawford v. Washington (2004) 541 U.S. 36.) Testimonial statements include prior testimony at a preliminary hearing, before a grand jury, at a former trial, and police interrogations, and not the casual remark of a three-year-old to his aunt.