United States Supreme Court (February 28, 2011)

A victim's dying declarations (identification and description of the shooter and the location of the shooting) were not testimonial statements; therefore, their admission at trial did not violate the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause.

The defendant was convicted of second-degree murder. At trial, the court admitted statements that the victim made to police who found him mortally wounded in a parking lot. The police had asked the victim what happened, who had shot him, and where the shooting had occurred. On appeal, Michigan's Supreme Court reversed the defendant's conviction, finding that the victim's statements were inadmissible testimonial hearsay that violated the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause. The United States Supreme Court granted Michigan's petition for a writ of certioriari to consider whether the Confrontation Clause barred the admission of the victim's statements to the police.

The Court reviewed its decisions in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), Davis v. Washington, 547 U.S. 813 (2006) and Hammon v. Indiana, 547 U.S. 813 (2006), noting that the defendant's trial occurred prior to these decisions.

In Crawford, the Court held that in order for testimonial evidence to be admissible, "the Sixth Amendment demands what the common law required: unavailability and prior opportunity for cross-examination." In Davis and Hammon, two domestic violence cases decided jointly, the Court expanded the Crawford meaning of "testimonial" to include the concept of "an ongoing emergency." In Davis, the Court noted:

Statements are nontestimonial when made in the course of
police interrogation under circumstances objectively indicating
that the primary purpose of the interrogation is to enable police
assistance to meet an ongoing emergency. They are testimonial
when the circumstances objectively indicate that there is no such
ongoing emergency, and that the primary purpose of the interrogation
is to establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later
criminal prosecution. Davis, 547 U.S., at 822.

In this case, the Court acknowledged that it must consider "ongoing emergency" circumstances beyond the domestic violence context of Davis and Hammon. "We now face a new context: a nondomestic dispute, involving a victim found in a public location, suffering from a fatal gunshot wound, and a perpetrator whose location was unknown at the time the police located the victim." Here, the "ongoing emergency" extended beyond the initial victim to potentially threaten police and the public. "This context requires additional clarification of what Davis meant by 'the primary purpose of the interrogation is to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency.'"

1) To make the "primary purpose" determination, the Court must objectively evaluate the circumstances in which the encounter between the individual and the police occurs and the parties' statements and actions.
2) The existence of an "ongoing emergency" at the time of the encounter is among the most important circumstances in determining the interrogation's "primary purpose." Whether an emergency exists and is ongoing is a "highly context-
dependent inquiry." In determining the presence of an emergency or the lack of testimonial intent, such considerations include whether a weapon is involved, the victim's medical condition, and the encounter's informality.
3) The statements and actions of the declarant and interrogators provide objective evidence of the interrogation's primary purpose.

Here, the circumstances involved an armed shooter and a mortally wounded victim. The police did not know why, where or when the shooting occurred, or the shooter's location - they asked questions necessary "to meet an ongoing emergency." The Court found that the victim's identification and description of the shooter and the location of the shooting were not testimonial hearsay. The victim's statements did not violate the Confrontation Clause. The Court vacated the Michigan Supreme Court's judgment and remanded the case.