February 14, 2018

"A woman stabbed and left for dead named her killers in her last moments, police say."

WaPo reports.
“Her internal fortitude, to stay alive and to fight, is pretty remarkable,” Sgt. Ray Kelly of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office told the San Francisco Chronicle. “This young woman clung to life when she was left for dead and was able to live for another couple hours and get us that information. Ultimately that led us to these arrests.”...

Lizette Andrea Cuesta of Tracy, Calif.... had crawled nearly 100 yards... to get to the road, where she had some chance of being seen by people in passing cars....

“You could tell it was so bad to where you just had to give her comfort,” Richard Loadholt, one of the UPS employees who had been riding with three other men on Tesla Road in Livermore around 2 a.m., told Sacramento Fox affiliate KTXL. Initially, he said he and his workmates thought she was missing an arm. “She fought like a soldier. Like a warrior.”...
"Dying declaration" is a technical term in law. It's an exception to the rule against hearsay. In the California code:
Evidence of a statement made by a dying person respecting the cause and circumstances of his death is not made inadmissible by the hearsay rule if the statement was made upon his personal knowledge and under a sense of immediately impending death.

24 comments:

Ralph L said...

I hope the people who found her didn't wait for an ambulance. Scoop and run.

under a sense of immediately impending death.
How much does this part get litigated, appealed, etc? How pigheaded can judges be?
Suppose someone miraculously survives but can't remember.


The Drill SGT said...

A Law Post to keep your Law Prof blog creds?

gilbar said...

this is the second (or third) Law Post of this morning

Ignorance is Bliss said...

A woman stabbed and left for dead...

Note to self: Never leave anyone for dead.

Fernandistein said...

She had that selfie plastic-face thing down pat. Uhhh..."Beat face"!

Michael McNeil said...

Remember the movie DOA?

Owen said...

A sad way to learn about hearsay exceptions. Prayers up to the decedent and those who will miss her.

Oso Negro said...

Blogger Ralph L said...
I hope the people who found her didn't wait for an ambulance. Scoop and run.

under a sense of immediately impending death.
How much does this part get litigated, appealed, etc? How pigheaded can judges be?
Suppose someone miraculously survives but can't remember.


Apparently they were afraid to move her. She was airlifted and died two hours later.

Bay Area Guy said...

Yikes. My neighborhood. Very sad, but courageous woman.

MadisonMan said...

How can a defense atty work against such a dying declaration? That must be very difficult.

Ann Althouse said...

"She had that selfie plastic-face thing down pat."

When young women die these days, the photographs are usually selfies rather than school pictures or family photos. They all have a certain look.

Ann Althouse said...

"How can a defense atty work against such a dying declaration? That must be very difficult."

Plead guilty.

Ann Althouse said...

The original idea of the dying declaration included a religious idea that if you knew you were about to die and face God, you would not lie, but the practical idea is just that we need this evidence and the option of calling the witness is never there.

Static Ping said...

This is a difficult story to comment on as everything feels wrong. A young lady murdered by a couple of friends is just horrific.

EDH said...

As an aside, hearsay may support a search warrant.

Even if the victim's identification of her killers couldn't come in at trial, the police can use the statement to support a search warrant of their suspects' home and vehicle for evidence (e.g., blood, murder weapon, etc.) to tie them to the crime.

Admissibility of this dying declaration of who exactly committed the crime, however, is a coffin nail in any defense attempt to explain away that kind of physical evidence.

Yancey Ward said...

A sad story.

However, what is the rationale for this being an exception to the hearsay rule? I have never really understood this exception, or am I wrong in thinking that it isn't actually investigated and argued in pre-trial motions before the testimony is allowed- in other words, it is an exception, but can be disallowed if the prosecution can't support it with other evidence.

George Grady said...

[T]he practical idea is just that we need this evidence and the option of calling the witness is never there.

I also think that it's morally questionable to allow people to silence their victims' testimony by the expedient of killing them. And we don't want to incentivize that sort of thing.

Trumpit said...

When my mother was murdered by two doctors with the help of three ER nurses, she was silenced with a tranquilizer then killed with a morphine overdose given intravenously by a continuous pump. I was at her bedside while she was being murdered, but didn't realize it, or I'd have done something to prevent it. She tried to talk to me, but she was too weak from the tranquilizer that I wasn't told about. The moral of the story is that if you plan on killing someone, make sure they can't talk and call for help. One obvious way of doing that is to make sure your victim is dead.

Paul McKaskle said...

The California Supreme Court has been pretty liberal in allowing dying declarations as evidence. I don't think this one even comes close to the border of inadmissability.

It was a sad and brutal end to the victim--the perpetrators have been caught.

Caligula said...

"The original idea of the dying declaration included a religious idea that if you knew you were about to die and face God, you would not lie, but the practical idea is just that we need this evidence and the option of calling the witness is never there."

Perhaps there's something of a "no one should profit from a criminal act" aspecthere as well?

After all, the reason why the victim's testimony is unavailable is because the victim was murdered.

Beldar said...

As noted on the EvidenceProfBlog, there was a hearsay objection made, and overruled on the basis of the dying declaration doctrine, in the Coen Bros.' 2009 remake of True Grit.

MaxedOutMama said...

With regard to the story - my God. Horrifying. I don't like to think of what that young woman's last hours were like, and a jury would not either. Bench trial/guilty plea.

With regard to the law - a dying declaration can be challenged by the defense in almost any way the statement of a living witness could be challenged, with the sole exception that cross-examination will not be possible. It can be done by introducing contrary evidence, or even making an argument on the basis of a lack of supporting evidence. And since the statement(s) are introduced as evidence, anything that impugns that evidence may be used, such as expert witness testimony (person was to far gone to be rational, etc). But it appears that this witness' (victim's) statement is corroborated by the evidence, and that her communications were detailed enough to make such arguments unlikely.

And then there is common sense. If a person who has been critically injured by a person or persons is making a last statement about it, what is the probability that this person decided to forgive her murderer and instead use this golden opportunity to get back at the person/persons she dislikes?

Suppose the "dying declaration" came in the form of nods and gestures in response to an officer's yes/no questions. "Was the person who did this to you your husband?" "Did this happen this morning?" You could challenge that as being leading and providing insufficient evidence of perception and intent. In this case, that probably won't work because it seems she provided names.

The stakes are different with a living witness, because evidence can be suborned, a condition of a plea deal, a matter of revenge, a cover-up for the witness' own guilt, etc.

Zach said...

A very sad story. I cycle on that road many weekends. It's a very empty area, but the road connects two medium sized cities. It has a lot of traffic during the day and well into the evening.

The hearsay exception is one case where the law is reasonable but not strictly logical. Logically, a defendant ought to be able to confront any witness who testifies against him. But on the whole, I think you're better off allowing one exception. It's funny that the exception has never been expanded, in the way that legal rules so often are.

Zach said...

Spoilers for Altered Carbon:

The dying words exemption is actually a major plot point in the book that forms the basis for the new Netflix series. In the novel, people can store their memories and personality in removable hardware, so that they can be downloaded into a new body. One use of that technology is for murder victims to testify against their killers -- but Catholics don't believe that the soul can be digitized, so they can't be resurrected to testify. Which leads to an interestingly complicated plot.