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Required Findings and Balancing Test for Admitting Hearsay at Probation/Parole Revocation Hearings

Case Name: People v. Gray (2023) 15 Cal.5th 152
Case #: S269237
Last Updated: August 14, 2023

Did the trial court violate the due process right to confrontation applicable at probation and parole revocation hearings by admitting hearsay statements in a bodycam video under the excited utterance exception (Evid. Code, § 1240) without first making a finding of good cause and determining whether a balancing of the relevant factors under People v. Arreola (1994) 7 Cal.4th 1144 favored admission?

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.]

This case was decided on 8/14/2023. Chief Justice Guerrero authored the opinion of the court, in which Justices Corrigan, Liu, Kruger, Groban, Jenkins, and Evans concurred.

Review on this issue was also granted with briefing deferred in:

  • People v. Downs (B315593) [nonpub. opn.], review granted 1/19/2023 (S277322)
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