The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, in Michigan v. Bryant, that the Confrontation Clause was not violated when police testified at trial that a gunshot victim identified his shooter in response to police questioning.
The Court, in a 6-2 decision, vacated the Michigan Supreme Court’s contrary conclusion (People v. Bryant).
Covington was shot outside of Bryant’s house and managed to drive himself to a gas station. Someone called the police, who arrived before the medical responders. The police asked Covington, who was in great pain and having trouble breathing, who shot him. Covington named Bryant as the shooter. Covington died a few hours later.
The police testified at Bryant’s trial that Covington identified Bryant. Bryant was convicted of second-degree murder.
The MSC reversed the conviction, ruling that Covington’s statements were inadmissible testimonial hearsay.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the statements were not testimonial, and vacated the MSC’s decision.
The Court, citing Davis v. Washington, 547 U. S. 813 (2006), said the circumstances, viewed objectively, showed that
Covington’s identification and description of the shooter and the location of the shooting were not testimonial statements because they had a “primary purpose … to enable police assistance to meet an on-going emergency.” Davis, 547 U. S., at 822. Therefore, their admission at Bryant’ s trial did not violate the Confrontation Clause.
When Covington responded to questions from the police
he was lying in a gas station parking lot bleeding from a mortal gunshot wound, and his answers were punctuated with questions about when emergency medical services would arrive.
Thus, this Court cannot say that a person in his situation would have had a “primary purpose” “to establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution.” …
For their part, the police responded to a call that a man had been shot. They did not know why, where, or when the shooting had occurred; the shooter’s location; or anything else about the crime.
They asked exactly the type of questions necessary to enable them “to meet an ongoing emergency.” …
“Nothing in Covington’s responses indicated to the police that there was no emergency or that the emergency had ended. …
The officers all arrived at different times; asked, upon arrival, what had happened; and generally did not conduct a structured interrogation.
“The informality suggests that their primary purpose was to address what they considered to be an ongoing emergency, and the circumstances lacked a formality that would have alerted Covington to or focused him on the possible future prosecutorial use of his statements.
The Court vacated the MSC’s decision.
We leave for the Michigan courts to decide on remand whether the statements’ admission was otherwise permitted by state hearsay rules.