ILNews

Court: Nontestimonial statements allowed at trial

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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Statements to police made by a woman who accused a defendant of hitting her should have been admissible during the defendant's trial, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled April 25.

The appellate court determined statements made by Keyona Brooks, in which she said defendant Tracey Lamont Martin struck her in the face while they were fighting in the car before he drove off with her children, should have been considered nontestimonial, and thus admissible at trial.

Brooks was not available to testify at Martin's trial on a domestic battery charge and Martin moved to suppress her statements to police, arguing their admission would violate his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation. The trial court granted his motion to suppress, finding the statements were testimonial.

In State of Indiana v. Tracey Lamont Martin, No. 02A04-0704-CR-219, the Court of Appeals examined the statements Brooks made and applied the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Davis v. Washington, 547 U.S. 813 (2006), to determine if her statements made to police were nontestimonial or testimonial. Testimonial statements are not admissible at trial.

In the Davis test, statements are reviewed to see whether the declarant was describing events as they were actually happening or past events; whether the declarant was facing an ongoing emergency; whether the nature of what was asked and answered elicited statements that were necessary to resolve a present emergency as opposed to learning about past events; and the level of formality of the interview.

In the instant case, Brooks told police officers about past events - Martin struck her and drove away with her children in a car with a door still open - but that information was relevant to establish whether Martin still posed a present danger.

Brooks experienced an ongoing emergency because she did not know the whereabouts of her children while speaking to police. The police asked Brooks questions about Martin to resolve the ongoing emergency. The interview process was extremely informal as Brooks was sitting on the side of the road, bleeding and hysterical, as she answered questions, wrote Judge Terry Crone.

"In sum, we must conclude that the circumstances of the officers' interrogation of Brooks objectively indicate that its primary purpose was to assist police in resolving an ongoing emergency. Therefore, Brooks's statements to police were nontestimonial, and the trial court abused its discretion in excluding them," he wrote.

The appellate court reversed the trial court decision; however, because the state is barred from retrying Martin on the domestic battery charge because he was acquitted, the issue is moot in this case, Judge Crone wrote.
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