Schaffer v. State, 113-87

CourtCourt of Appeals of Texas. Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas
Citation777 S.W.2d 111
Docket NumberNo. 113-87,113-87
PartiesMichael Lee SCHAFFER, Appellant, v. The STATE of Texas, Appellee.
Decision Date20 September 1989

Joseph A. Connors, III and Flavio Escobar, Jr., McAllen, for appellant.

Rene Guerra, Dist. Atty., Theodore C. Hake, Asst. Dist. Atty., Edinburg, Robert Huttash, State's Atty. and Carl E.F. Dally, Sp. Asst. State's Atty., Austin, for the State.

Before the court en banc.

OPINION ON STATE'S PETITION FOR DISCRETIONARY REVIEW

McCORMICK, Presiding Judge.

A jury found appellant, Michael Lee Schaffer, guilty of possessing peyote, a controlled substance. The trial court assessed punishment at ten years' confinement. The Corpus Christi Court of Appeals reversed appellant's conviction finding that the trial court improperly allowed the State to introduce hearsay evidence before the jury. Schaffer v. State, 721 S.W.2d 594 (Tex.App.--Corpus Christi 1986). We granted the State's petition for discretionary review to examine the Court of Appeal's holding and now affirm.

A McAllen police officer arrested appellant in a stolen van which contained approximately 1,700 grams of bagged and loose peyote buttons. Appellant testified at trial. He admitted to being inside the stolen van and to knowing that the van contained the controlled substance. Appellant's defense, however, was that he was acting as a police informer. He named "Jimmy Seals" as the Abilene police officer with whom he had worked for two years previous to his arrest. He further testified that during those two years he had provided authorities information leading to the arrests and convictions of several drug dealers.

Apparently surprised, the prosecutor asked Manuel A. Segovia, a narcotics investigator for the Hidalgo County Sheriff's Office who had testified earlier on behalf of the State, to phone officer Seals. Thereafter, in rebuttal to appellant's testimony, Officer Segovia testified as follows:

"Q. Officer Segovia, when was the first time you heard the name of--a person by the name of Jimmy Seals?

"A. This morning.

"Q. And who, if anybody, informed you of that name?

"A. You did, sir.

"Q. And were you able to contact Officer Seals?

"A. Yes, sir.

"Q. And when was this?

"A. This morning.

"Q. And did you have occasion to talk to him?

"A. Yes, sir, I did.

"Q. Without telling us what he told you, Officer Segovia, would you, at this time, ask the State to drop charges against Mr. Schaffer?

"A. No, sir."

Neither the State nor appellant subpoenaed Officer Seals for trial. Appellant testified that he had talked with Seals about testifying but that the Officer did not know if he would be able to come on such short notice. Seals did not testify at trial.

At trial and upon appeal, appellant asserted that the State had elicited hearsay testimony before the jury when it received a negative answer from Officer Segovia in response to its question of whether the Officer would request that the State drop charges against appellant after talking with Officer Seals. The trial court overruled appellant's hearsay objection but the Corpus Christi Court of Appeals reversed the conviction, holding:

"While this form of question and answer does not produce hearsay in the classic or textbook sense, it is nevertheless designed to circumvent the hearsay rule and present the jury with information from unsworn, out-of-court sources. It should be called 'backdoor' hearsay and should be subject to the same rules and limitations as the more common form." Schaffer, 721 S.W.2d at 597.

We agree with the Court of Appeals and hold that the trial court should have sustained appellant's hearsay objection.

The State in its petition for discretionary review insists that there is no valid reason to label Officer's Segovia's testimony as hearsay. The State offers Tex.R.Crim.Evid. 801(d) as instructive of what constitutes hearsay: " 'Hearsay' is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted." 1 By inference, the State suggests that since no out-of-court "statement" was received into evidence, no hearsay violation occurred. We disagree.

The rule concerning the type of hearsay in this case is set out in McCormick on Evidence:

"If the purpose of the testimony is to use an out-of-court statement to evidence the truth of facts stated therein, the hearsay objection cannot be obviated by eliciting the purport of the statement in indirect form. Thus evidence as to the purport of 'information received' by the witness, or testimony of the results of investigations made by other persons, offered as proof of the facts asserted out of court, are properly classed as hearsay." McCormick on Evidence, Section 249, p. 735 (Cleary Rev., 3rd Ed.1984).

Thus, where there is an inescapable conclusion that a piece of evidence is being offered to prove statements made outside the courtroom, a party may not circumvent the hearsay prohibition through artful questioning designed to elicit hearsay indirectly. In short, "statement" as defined in Tex.R.Civ.Evid. 801(a) (now see Tex.R.Crim.Evid. 801(a)) necessarily includes proof of the statement whether the proof is direct or indirect.

In the case before us, the State did indirectly that which it could not do directly--Officer Segovia's testimony informed the jury that Seals told him that appellant was not an informant. To regard the testimony in any other manner is disingenuous--a jury is not likely to make legal distinctions between a flat-out narrative ("Seals told me that appellant is not an informant") and an oblique narrative ("Without telling us what [Officer Seals] told you ... would you ask the State to drop the charges"). There is no doubt that the State's sole intent in pursuing this line of questioning was to convey to the jury that Seals had told Segovia that appellant was not an informant. There is no other reason to question Segovia (who had already testified at trial on other matters) other than to destroy appellant's defense that he was working with authorities. Indeed, in his final arguments to the jury, the prosecutor stated:

"Counsel [for the defense] has told you that the Defendant has been in jail for a long time. Don't you think Defense Counsel had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Seals long before this--and nip this at the bud, by telling me, 'Mr. Hernandez, you are wrong. This man is an informer.'

* * * * * *

"Regardless of what I say or what anybody else has said in this case, that factor, which I submit to you is the only issue left in this case, whether that man was acting as an agent for a police department as he had told you. Is it true?

"Recalling that each side has the power of subpoena, has he brought you any other evidence to confirm what he had told you?

* * * * * *

"The State took action when we heard of Mr. Seals. We took action. We found Mr. Seals. That is all that I have to say on that matter." [ 2

We therefore hold that the trial court improperly allowed the State to introduce hearsay testimony before the jury.

The State, in its petition for discretionary review and brief on the merits, has referred this Court to several of our cases where we have held that it was not erroneous for a police officer to relate to the jury that he or she acted in response to information received by others. The State cites: Black v. State, 503 S.W.2d 554 (Tex.Cr.App.1974); Johnson v. State, 379 S.W.2d 329 (Tex.Cr.App.1964); Locke v. State, 169 Tex.Crim. 361, 334 S.W.2d 292 (1960); and Lufkin v. State, 144 Tex.Crim. 501, 164 S.W.2d 709 (1942). Each of these cases is distinguishable from the case that is now before us.

Frequently, testimony will have an impermissible hearsay aspect along with a permissible nonhearsay aspect. Almost always it will be relevant for a testifying officer to relate how she happened upon the scene of a crime or accident; thus, it is permissible for her to testify that she was acting in response to "information received." "[A]n arresting officer should not be put in the false position of seeming just to have happened upon the scene, he should be allowed some explanation of his presence and conduct." McCormick, supra, Section 249, p. 734. 3 The police officer however, should not be permitted to relate historical aspects of the case, replete with hearsay statements in the form of complaints and reports on grounds that she was entitled to tell the jury the information upon which she acted. 4 See, e.g., Vines v. State, 479 S.W.2d 322, 324 (Tex.Cr.App.1972) (after testifying that an intake officer is responsible for not allowing intoxicated arrestees to leave from jail house, police officer testified that intake officer did not allow the defendant to leave); Deary v. State, 681 S.W.2d 784, 788 (Tex.App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1984, pet. ref'd) (after testifying that he interviewed the defendant's co-actor in a shoplifting incident, officer testified that he was able to locate the defendant's photograph to show the complainant). See also United States v. Brown, 767 F.2d 1078, 1083 (4th Cir.1985); Harris v. Wainwright, 760 F.2d 1148, 1151 (11th Cir.1985); United States v. Hernandez, 750 F.2d 1256, 1257-58 (5th Cir.1985).

In each of the cases cited by the State, the officer merely related how he happened upon the scene. See Black, 503 S.W.2d at 557 (defendant arrested as a result of a phone call); Johnson, 379 S.W.2d at 333 (police stopped defendant's car after receiving radio broadcast); Lufkin, 164 S.W.2d at 711 (police waited for defendant at depot because of information they had received). Such testimony was necessary for the jury's understanding of the events and was not introduced for the truth of any implications. Cf., Tex.R.Crim.Evid. 801(d) (defining hearsay as a "statement ... offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted"). In the case at bar, however, the State introduced Segovia's testimony for no other reason than to...

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