Can prior exculpatory statements be admitted into evidence?
The phrase “exculpatory evidence” is legalese for evidence that tends to show a defendant is not guilty or did not have the required criminal intent to commit the crime charged. As I explain it to my Boston criminal defense clients, it is evidence that tends to excuse or justify a defendant’s conduct, or to absolve the defendant of fault or guilt.
If a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney were to try to introduce a prior out-of-court exculpatory statement in a criminal trial, the judge probably would not allow it, holding that the statement is hearsay and, therefore, inadmissible. (Hearsay is a statement made out-of-court that is offered to prove that the facts in the statement are true.) However, an experienced Boston criminal defense lawyer would argue that the statement is an exception to the hearsay rule and is, therefore, admissible. For example, hearsay may be admitted at trial if:
It is a present sense impression. This is a statement that describes or explains an event while the event is being perceived. A good example is a 911 call made while the witness watched the event, or shortly after the event, in which the witness describes a perpetrator who looks different from the defendant.
It is an “excited utterance.” An excited utterance is a statement made about a startling event while the person making the statement is experiencing that event. For example, if your client exclaimed, “I have no idea how that got there,” when the police opened the trunk of his car and found a gun, that statement would be an admissible excited utterance.
It is a statement describing a person’s then-existing state of mind, or physical or emotional condition.
In addition, if a defendant consistently states that he is not guilty, even when confronted with strong inducements to admit guilt, such as an offer of no jail time, the defendant’s statements may be admissible as evidence of his innocence.
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