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Name: People v. Pirwani
Case #: H025395
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 6 DCA
Citation: 119 Cal.App.4th 770
Summary

Appellant was a caretaker for a dependent adult, Ebaugh, who entrusted her finances to appellant. Ebaugh came into a large sum of money in 1999, which was gone by February, 2001. Shortly thereafter, Ebaugh died. Appellant was convicted of stealing the money. On appeal, appellant contended that her constitutional rights were violated at trial by the admission of two hearsay statements by Ebaugh: a videotaped statement made to police two days before she died, admitted into evidence under Evidence Code section 1380 (which creates a hearsay exception for statements made by elderly or dependent adults); and a statement made to her social worker’s supervisor the day after she admitted as a spontaneous declarion under Evidence Code section 1240. The appellate court here agreed and reversed the conviction. In Crawford v. Washington, the United States Supreme Court decided that an out-of-court testimonial statement made by a witness to law enforcement is barred by the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause – even if there has been a judicial determination that the statement bears a particularized guarantee of trustworthiness – unless the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the witness, and the witness is unavailable to testify at trial. Contravening Crawford, Evidence Code section 1380 makes admissible at trial testimonial statements by unavailable witnesses without giving the accused an opportunity to cross-examine. Crawford, therefore, renders section 1380 unconstitutional, and Ebaugh’s statement to police was erroneously admitted. Futher, Ebaugh’s statement to her social worker’s supervisor should not have been admitted as a spontaneous declaration. The statements at issue were not spontaneous, but instead show ample opportunity for deliberation and reflection. Since Crawford radically alters the way we analyze claims of error under the Confrontation Clause, the court held that it must consider whether the constitutional violation in this case is harmless beyond a reasonable doubt under Chapman. Here, it is questionable whether without any evidence of Ebaugh’s statements accusing appellant of theft, the prosecution would have been able to prove that appellant’s purchases were not gifts from Ebaugh, or that Ebaugh did not simply squander the money. Therefore the effect of the errors was prejudicial, and reversal was required.

Opinion Date: 06/21/2004