Thursday, January 18, 2007

Justice Lumpkin's Bill of Rights VI

In my first post about Campbell v. Georgia, I briefly reviewed the facts but said that they contained a great irony. Now it's time to pull back the curtain.

Mays was beaten and stabbed late Saturday night or early Sunday morning. He died late Monday. On Monday, while he knew he was dying, he told people who were attending him that it was Campbell who had assaulted him. The people who heard Mays' statements testified to them in court. It was the admission of these hearsay statements -- the statements by witnesses as to what Mays had supposedly told them -- that Campbell contended violated the Confrontation Clause.

The irony lies in the fact that Justice Lumpkin ultimately concluded that the statements were hearsay -- that is, the witnesses had testified about unsworn, out-of-court statements allegedly made by Mays, introduced for the purpose of demonstrating the truth of those unsworn, out-of-court statements (i.e., that it was Campbell who had assaulted and thus ultimately caused the death of Mays). Nonetheless, the court concluded, the statements were admissible because they fell within a long-recognized exception to the hearsay rule, known as the "dying declarations" exception. (The rationale of the exception is that a person who is about to die, and who knows that he is about to die, is likely to be telling the truth.) The court therefore affirmed Campbell's conviction of voluntary manslaughter.

In short, all of Justice Lumpkin's ringing oratory was utterly unnecessary dictum. The court could (and should) have avoided the constitutional issue altogether. It could simply have said, "There is no need to decide, or even discuss, whether the Confrontation Clause, or some similar principle of fundamental law, applies to this case, because the admission of the statements does not and would not violate the Clause or principle."

The image is of the Joseph Henry Lumpkin house in Athens, Georgia, which he owned from 1843 until his death.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails