Wednesday, February 14, 2007

People v. Pedroza (Cal. Ct. App. - Feb. 13, 2007)

Here's an opinion by Justice Suzukawa, who's fairly new to the Court of Appeal (he's been there for a little less than a year). It's a criminal case, and the victim, who was allegedly set on fire by her spouse (and subsequently died), made two sets of statements that incriminated her husband.

I agree with Justice Suzukawa that the first statement was admissible hearsay under the spontaneous utterance rule, even though it wasn't all that spontaneous -- indeed, was made under police questioning. I also agree that the second set of statements involves a "closer" question (though I'd hardly say, as Justice Suzukawa does, that it's only "slightly" closer).

But, unlike Justice Suzukawa, I think the better view is that the second set of statements weren't spontaneous utterances. Yes, the victim had been recently burned, and continued to moan and shake. But she made the statements only after five minutes of questioning by the police, during which time she also both asked the police different questions herself (e.g., how she looked) and requested that the police do various things (e.g., hold her hand). I find it difficult to conclude that statements made after five minutes of consistent police questioning are really spontaneous.

I don't know whether the statements are admissible as dying declarations -- an issue that Justice Suzukawa doesn't reach since he admits them as spontaneous utterances. But, for me, I'd rather hang my hat on dying declaration grounds than spontaneous utterances, which I think isn't really true here.

As an aside, the defendant said two random, interesting things to the police once they caught up with him immediately after the fire. First, when they initially asked him who he was, he replied: "Elmer Fudd". Funny. I guess you don't lose your sense of humor -- as it were -- just because you recently set your wife on fire. Second, in a darker vein, once defendant's arrested and taken to the police station for questioning, he eventually says: "“[J]ust put me in a cell by myself with my belt and I’ll take care of it," and, later, "[C]ome on, just take me out back and just put a bullet in my head.” Sad. And very much like an episode of NYPD Blue, as I recall.