Supreme Court to Decide If Jury Should Have Heard Murder Victim’s Testimony

April 24, 2008 11:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
The Supreme Court hears an appeal of convicted murderer Dwayne Giles, who contests whether the deceased’s words should have been admitted as testimony.

30-Second Summary

Dwayne Giles is appealing a decision of the California Supreme Court court to admit a statement from the deceased as evidence. Giles is serving a 50-year-to-life sentence for murdering Brenda Avie.

As journalist Mark Sherman reports for the Associated Press, “Three California courts that have considered Giles’s claim have said, in effect, ‘You must be kidding.’”

But the Supreme Court accepted the case for review. Giles presented his argument to the Supreme Court on April 22.

In 2002, the California trial court allowed as evidence Brenda Avie’s conversation with a police officer responding to a domestic quarrel. Avie told him Giles drew a knife on her, accused her of infidelity and threatened to kill her if she slept with anyone else.

During his defense, Giles’s lawyer Marilyn Burkhard cited the confrontation clause: the defendant has the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” Referring to a 2004 Supreme Court decision, she argued that testimony that can’t be cross-examined is hearsay and must be excluded.

The evidence was considered, and Giles was convicted. He then appealed the admissibility of the deceased's testimony. Justice Paul Coffee of the California Court of Appeals disagreed, referring to the doctrine of “forfeiture by wrongdoing,” which states that criminals cannot profit from their own “wrongful acts.” During the hearing before the Supreme Court, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. appeared to concur with Coffee: "We usually, under our system, don't try to give benefits for murderers."

However, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy referred to the 2004 Supreme Court decision that banned hearsay: “I think it's an astonishingly broad exception you're asking for.” Justice Antonin Scalia, responsible for the 2004 decision in Crawford v. Washington, also appeared inclined to vote in Giles’s favor.

Thirty-seven states have sided with the California courts in allowing testimony from an absent witness. However, court cases in Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota and New Mexico have upheld Giles’s position.

Headline Links: Testimony from the grave

Background: Giles’s appeals, Crawford v. Washington

Giles’ appeal
Crawford v. Washington

Related Topic: State v. Jensen

Reference: The Sixth Amendment’s 'Confrontation Clause'


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