The Law School Authority

Johnson v. State Case Brief

Summary of Johnson v. State, 579 P.2d 20 (1979)

Relevant Facts: After a beating Mrs. Johnson was taken to the hospital, where she was asked by the nurse how she was injured.  Johnson replied that she was beaten by a man.  A few days later the Dr. decided surgery was needed and because her chances of survival were grave, he called the police.  They in turn interviewed her three days after surgery and after a priest had been summoned.  She stated that she thought her husband had beat her because she hid some money.  She died afterward.

Legal Issue(s): Whether Mrs. Johnson’s dying declarations are required to have been made under her belief that all hope of survival was gone, at the time she made them, for them to be admissible?

Court’s Holding: No, the proper standard is ‘awareness of impending death.’

Procedure: The trial ct suppressed the witness’ statements; Affirmed in Part, Reversed in part–Remanded with instructions.

Law or Rule(s): To be admissible as a dying declaration, the utterance must be that of a person laboring under a sense of impending death, who has abandoned all hope of recovery.

Court Rationale: The admission of dying declarations, under certain conditions, is a well recognized exception to the rule excluding hearsay testimony.  The basic reasons are necessity–because of the witness’ death–and a belief that the approach of death removes ordinary motives to misstate.  FRE no longer require abandonment of all hope of recovery, because such a standard is overly demanding and it rarely exists.  What is required is that the declarant have such a belief that he is facing death as to remove ordinary worldly motives for misstatement.  The ct should consider the totality of circumstances including the presence or absence of a motive to falsify and the manner the statement was given/received.

Concurrence:  The dying declaration rule rest on certain assumptions about human nature which may in themselves be highly questionable.  The rule assumes that the declarant will be more truthful than others, without reference to the personal characteristics of the declarant.

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