CRIMINAL PROCEDURE – 6th amendment right to confront witnesses and excluded statements by rape victim to nurse (excited utterances): Tyrone Antoine Hartsfield v. Commonwealth (SC 2/19/2009)

Tyrone Antoine Hartsfield v. Commonwealth
2007-SC-000077-DG 2/19/2009
Opinion by Chief Justice Minton; Justice Abramson not sitting.

Hartsfield was indicted on rape and sodomy charges. The alleged victim, M.B., died before the indictment went to trial. The trial court excluded statements made by M.B. as violative of Hartsfield’s Sixth Amendment right to confront adverse witnesses. The first set of excluded statements was made by M.B. to the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) at the hospital following the alleged rape. The second set of statements were made by M.B. when she fled her house immediately after the alleged rape. M.B. was said to have cried out to a passerby, “He raped me! He raped me!” She then ran to her daughter’s house and made similar statements to her daughter. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding, inter alia, that the statements to the SANE nurse did not violate the confrontation clause.

The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, on the grounds that under the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Crawford, the confrontation clause precludes admission of the statements of a witness unavailable to testify at trial if the witness’ out-of-court statements were “testimonial,” unless the accused had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the witness. Since M.B.’s statements were made to the SANE nurse– an agent of law enforcement and active participant in a formal criminal investigation– and since the statements were elicited for the purpose of gathering evidence and were not related to resolving an ongoing emergency, the Court concluded the statements were testimonial and thus barred by the confrontation clause.

The Court affirmed the Court of Appeals regarding the admissibility of the statements made by M.B. to the passerby and her daughter under the excited utterance exception to the hearsay rule. Justice Schroder concurred in result only, noting that he believed that the statements to the passerby and daughter fell into the “ongoing emergency” exception to Crawford found in Davis since the record indicated M.B. was fleeing from her attacker when the statements were made.