White v. Illinois, 90-6113

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation502 U.S. 346,116 L.Ed.2d 848,112 S.Ct. 736
Docket NumberNo. 90-6113,90-6113
PartiesRandall D. WHITE, Petitioner v. ILLINOIS
Decision Date15 January 1992

At petitioner White's trial on charges related to a sexual assault upon S.G., a 4-year-old girl, the trial court ruled that testimony recounting S.G.'s statements describing the crime that was offered by her babysitter, her mother, an investigating officer, an emergency room nurse, and a doctor was admissible under state-law hearsay exceptions for spontaneous declarations and for statements made in the course of securing medical treatment. The trial court also denied White's motion for a mistrial based on S.G.'s presence at trial and failure to testify. White was found guilty by a jury, and the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed his conviction, rejecting his Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause challenge that was based on Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U.S. 56, 100 S.Ct. 2531, 65 L.Ed.2d 597. The court concluded that this Court's later decision in United States v. Inadi, 475 U.S. 387, 106 S.Ct. 1121, 89 L.Ed.2d 390, foreclosed any rule requiring that, as a necessary antecedent to the introduction of hearsay testimony, the prosecution must either produce the declarant at trial or show that the declarant is unavailable.

Held: The Confrontation Clause does not require that, before a trial court admits testimony under the spontaneous declaration and medical examination exceptions to the hearsay rule, either the prosecution must produce the declarant at trial or the trial court must find that the declarant is unavailable. Pp. 352-358.

(a) This Court rejects the argument of the United States as amicus curiae that the Confrontation Clause's limited purpose is to prevent the abusive practice of prosecuting a defendant through the presentation of ex parte affidavits, without the affiants ever being produced at trial, that the only situation in which the Clause would apply to the introduction of out-of-court statements admitted under an accepted hearsay exception would be those few cases where the statement was in the character of such an ex parte affidavit, and that S.G. was not a "witness against" White within the meaning of the Clause because her statements did not fit this description. Such a narrow reading of the Clause, which would virtually eliminate its role in restricting the admission of hearsay testimony, is foreclosed by this Court's decisions, see, e.g., Mattox v. United States, 156 U.S. 237, 15 S.Ct. 337, 39 L.Ed. 409, and comes too late in the day to warrant reexamination. Pp. 352-353.

(b) Although Roberts contains language that might suggest that the Confrontation Clause generally requires that a declarant be produced at trial or be found unavailable before his out-of-court statement may be admitted into evidence, such an expansive reading was negated by the Court's decision in Inadi, supra, 475 U.S., at 392-400, 106 S.Ct., at 1124-1129. As Inadi recognized with respect to co-conspirator statements, the evidentiary rationale for admitting testimony regarding such hearsay as spontaneous declarations and statements made in the course of receiving medical care is that such out-of-court declarations are made in contexts that provide substantial guarantees of their trustworthiness. But those same factors that contribute to the statements' reliability cannot be recaptured by later in-court testimony. A statement that has been offered in a moment of excitement—without the opportunity to reflect on the consequences of one's exclamation—may justifiably carry more weight with a trier of fact than a similar statement offered in the relative calm of a courtroom. Similarly, a statement made in the course of procuring medical services, where the declarant knows that a false statement may cause misdiagnosis or mistreatment, carries special guarantees of credibility that a trier of fact may not think replicated by courtroom testimony. Where proffered hearsay has sufficient guarantees of reliability to come within a firmly rooted exception to the hearsay rule, the Confrontation Clause is satisfied. Establishing a generally applicable unavailability rule would have few practical benefits while imposing pointless litigation costs. Pp. 353-357.

(c) White misplaces his reliance on Coy v. Iowa, 487 U.S. 1012, 108 S.Ct. 2798, 101 L.Ed.2d 857, and Maryland v. Craig, 497 U.S. ----, 110 S.Ct. 3157, 111 L.Ed.2d 666, from which he draws a general rule that hearsay testimony offered by a child should be permitted only upon a showing of necessity—i.e., in cases where necessary to protect the child's physical and psychological well-being. Those cases involved only the question of what in-court procedures are constitutionally required to guarantee a defendant's confrontation rights once a child witness is testifying, and there is no basis for importing their "necessity requirement" into the much different context of out-of-court declarations admitted under established exceptions to the hearsay rule. Pp. 357-358.

198 Ill.App.3d 641, 144 Ill.Dec. 722, 555 N.E.2d 1241 (1990), affirmed.

REHNQUIST, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which WHITE, BLACKMUN, STEVENS, O'CONNOR, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined, and in which SCALIA and THOMAS, JJ., joined except for the discussion rejecting the United States' proposed reading of the "witness against" Confrontation Clause phrase. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, in which SCALIA, J., joined.

Gary R. Peterson, Springfield, Ill., for the petitioner.

Arleen C. Anderson, Chicago, Ill., for respondent.

Stephen L. Nightingale, Washington, D.C., as amicus curiae, supporting the respondent.

THE CHIEF JUSTICE delivered the opinion of the Court.

In this case we consider whether the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment requires that, before a trial court admits testimony under the "spontaneous declaration" and "medical examination" exceptions to the hearsay rule the prosecution must either produce the declarant at trial or the trial court must find that the declarant is unavailable. The Illinois Appellate Court concluded that such procedures are not constitutionally required. We agree with that conclusion.

Petitioner was convicted by a jury of aggravated criminal sexual assault, residential burglary, and unlawful restraint. Ill.Rev.Stat., ch. 38, &Par 12-14, 19-3, 10-3, (1989). The events giving rise to the charges related to the sexual assault of S.G., then four years old. Testimony at the trial established that in the early morning hours of April 16, 1988, S.G.'s babysitter, Tony DeVore, was awakened by S.G.'s scream. DeVore went to S.G.'s bedroom and witnessed petitioner leaving the room and petitioner then left the house. 6 Tr. 10-11. DeVore knew petitioner because petitioner was a friend of S.G.'s mother, Tammy Grigsby. Id., at 27. DeVore asked S.G. what had happened. According to DeVore's trial testimony, S.G. stated that petitioner had put his hand over her mouth, choked her, threatened to whip her if she screamed and had "touch[ed] her in the wrong places." Asked by DeVore to point to where she had been touched, S.G. identified the vaginal area. Id., at 12-17.

Tammy Grigsby, S.G.'s mother, returned home about 30 minutes later. Grigsby testified that her daughter appeared "scared" and a "little hyper." Id., at 77-78. Grigsby proceeded to question her daughter about what had happened. At trial, Grigsby testified that S.G. repeated her claims that petitioner choked and threatened her. Grigsby also testified that S.G. stated that petitioner "put his mouth on her front part." Id., at 79. Grigsby also noticed that S.G. had bruises and red marks on her neck that had not been there previously. Id., at 81. Grigsby called the police.

Officer Terry Lewis arrived a few minutes later, roughly 45 minutes after S.G.'s scream had first awakened DeVore. Lewis questioned S.G. alone in the kitchen. At trial, Lewis' summary of S.G.'s statement indicated that she had offered essentially the same story as she had first reported to DeVore and to Grigsby, including a statement that petitioner had "used his tongue on her in her private parts." Id., at 110-112.

After Lewis concluded his investigation, and approximately four hours after DeVore first heard S.G.'s scream, S.G. was taken to the hospital. She was examined first by Cheryl Reents, an emergency room nurse, and then by Dr. Michael Meinzen. Each testified at trial and their testimony indicated that, in response to questioning, S.G. again provided an account of events that was essentially identical to the one she had given to DeVore, Grigsby, and Lewis.

S.G. never testified at petitioner's trial. The State attempted on two occasions to call her as a witness but she apparently experienced emotional difficulty on being brought to the courtroom and in each instance left without testifying. App. at 14. The defense made no attempt to call S.G. as a witness and the trial court neither made, nor was it asked to make, a finding that S.G. was unavailable to testify. 6 Tr. 105-106.

Petitioner objected on hearsay grounds to DeVore, Grigsby, Lewis, Reents, and Meinzen being permitted to testify regarding S.G.'s statements describing the assault. The trial court overruled each objection. With respect to DeVore, Grigsby, and Lewis the trial court concluded that the testimony could be permitted pursuant to an Illinois hearsay exception for spontaneous declarations.1 Petitioner's objections to Reents' and Meinzen's testimony was similarly overruled, based on both the spontaneous declaration exception and an exception for statements made in the course of securing medical treatment.2 The trial court also denied petitioner's motion for a mistrial based on S.G.'s "presence [and] failure to testify." App. 14.

Petitioner was found guilty by a jury, and the Illinois Appellate Court affirmed his conviction. It held that the trial court operated within the discretion...

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