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Admission of Evidence and the Confrontation Clause

Case Name: Hemphill v. New York (2022) __ U.S.__ [142 S.Ct. 681]
Case #: 20-637
Last Updated: January 20, 2022

Whether, or under what circumstances, a criminal defendant who opens the door to responsive evidence also forfeits his right to exclude evidence otherwise barred by the Confrontation Clause. 

In 2006, a stray 9-millimeter bullet killed a 2-year-old child in the Bronx. The State charged Nicholas Morris with the murder, but after trial commenced, it offered him a plea deal for a lesser charge. The State specifically required Morris to admit to a new charge of possession of a .357-magnum revolver, not the 9-millimeter handgun originally charged in the indictment and used in the killing.

Years later, the State prosecuted petitioner Darrell Hemphill for the same murder. At his trial, Hemphill blamed Morris, and he elicited undisputed testimony from a prosecution witness that police had recovered 9-millimeter ammunition from Morris’ nightstand. Morris was outside the United States and not available to testify. The trial court allowed the State to introduce parts of the transcript of Morris’ plea allocution as evidence to rebut Hemphill’s theory that Morris committed the murder. The court reasoned that Hemphill’s arguments and evidence had “open[ed] the door” to the introduction of these testimonial out-of-court statements, not subjected to cross-examination, because they were “‘reasonably necessary’” to “‘correct’” the “‘misleading impression’” Hemphill had created. People v. Reid, 19 N. Y. 3d 382, 388, 971 N. E. 2d 353, 357, 948 N.Y.S.2d 223 (2012).

The question is whether the admission of the plea allocution under New York’s rule in People v. Reid violated Hemphill’s Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him. The Court holds that it did. Hemphill did not forfeit his confrontation right merely by making the plea allocution arguably relevant to his theory of defense.

This case was decided on 1/20/2022.

 

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