Williamson v. U.S. Case Brief

Summary of Williamson v. U.S., 512 U.S. 594 (1994)

Relevant Facts: A deputy stopped a car driven by Harris, who consented to a search that turned up a sizeable amount of cocaine in the trunk. Initially, Harris admitted to a DEA agent that the cocaine belonged to Williamson and was to be delivered at a dumpster. There was other evidence linking Williamson to the crime. Then when the DEA wanted to set up a controlled delivery, Harris recanted his first story and claimed that he was transporting the drugs for Williamson, but all other crimes were committed by Williamson. Harris refused to sign a statement, or testify after being given use immunity and was found in contempt. The trial ct allowed the agent to relate the statements by Harris into the record.

Legal Issue(s): Whether Harris’ statements, partially implicating himself, are admissible to collaterally inculpate third parties when they were made against Harris’ penal interests, under FRE 804(b)(3), or the Sixth Amendment?

Court’s Holding: Statements against a penal interests of a person cannot be used to collaterally inculpate third parties under FRE 804(b)(3), unless the statements were truly self-inculpatory and not self-serving.

Procedure: D. Ct. allowed statements, Df was convicted; Ct. of App. Affirmed; S.Ct. vacated and remanded for further proceedings.

Law or Rule(s): Statements which . . .at the time of [their] making . . .so far tended to subject the declarant to . . .criminal liability . . .that a reasonable person in the declarant’s position would not have made the statements unless believing [them] to be true.

Court Rationale: To determine the admissibility of the confession under the Rule, the assertion must have been a “statement." 801(a)(1) defines that as “an oral or written assertion." Either all or some of his confession would be admissible. The principal behind 804 is that even dishonest reasonable people tend not to make self-inculpatory statements unless they believe them to be true. 804 cannot be read to mean that collateral statements–even ones that are not in any way against the declarant’s interest–are admissible. The Rule does not allow non-self-inculpatory statements. The question to resolve under 804(b)(3) is whether the statement was sufficiently against the declarant’s penal interest such that a reasonable person in the declarant’s position would not have made the statement unless believing it to be true. This must be answered after taking in all the surrounding circumstances. Harris’ confession did little to subject himself to criminal liability, and reasonable person in his position might even think that implicating someone else would decrease his exposure to criminal liability.

CONCUR: His statements projected an image of a person acting not against his penal interests, but striving to shift the responsibility to someone else. B/c the text of the Rule expresses no guidance for the admission of collateral statements, then examine 1) the Advisory Committee Notes; 2) the C.L. hearsay exception for statements against interest; and 3) the general assumption that Congress doesn’t pass laws without effect. The notes suggest that not all collateral statements are admissible, and contemplates the exclusion of collateral self-serving statements, but allows collateral neutral statements. A self-serving statement is one that tends to reduce or mitigate potential for punishment; neutrals are where two or more are capable of committing a crime and the declarant simply names the parties.

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