In State v. Wright, 1 the State of Minnesota charged David Wright with possession of a firearm by a felon and two counts of second-degree assault against his girlfriend and her sister. A jury found Wright guilty on all charges and sentenced him to sixty months in jail for each crime, with sentences served concurrently. Wright’s girlfriend, R.R., and her sister, S.R., did not testify against him at trial. The prosecution, however, used the transcript of a 911 call placed by R.R. against Wright in the trial. Although the 911 call was hearsay, the court admitted it under Minnesota’s excited utterance hearsay exception. The prosecution used R.R.’s 911 call in its closing arguments and the jury was allowed to listen to the 911 call during deliberations. After the jury found Wright guilty, he appealed his conviction to the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The court, finding that there was no reversible error by the district court, affirmed Wright’s conviction. This case presented a Minnesota appellate court with its first opportunity to address the admissibility of 911 calls into evidence in criminal trials after the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision in Crawford v. Washington. After the Crawford decision, the admission of certain ‘testimonial’ out-of-court statements by an unavailable witness will violate a criminal defendant’s Sixth Amendment right of confrontation if the defendant lacks the opportunity to cross-examine the witness. The Minnesota Court of Appeals decided that the 911 call did not fit into the Supreme Court’s definition of ‘testimonial’ statements, and therefore held the call was admissible under a hearsay exception without violating the Sixth Amendment. Moreover, Judge Hudson, in a separate opinion, argued that 911 calls should not be considered, by definition, ‘non-testimonial.’ The issue now becomes: was the Minnesota Court of Appeals correct in deciding that R.R.’s 911 call was not ‘testimonial’ in nature, and therefore properly admitted into evidence despite Wright’s lack of opportunity to cross-examine R.R. on her assertions in the 911 call? This Note considers whether the Minnesota Court of Appeals correctly held that a 911 call does not violate a criminal defendant’s Sixth Amendment right of confrontation. In light of other court opinions on this issue, however, this Note concludes that the Wright court’s analysis was flawed because it suggests that all 911 calls would be admissible after Crawford. In addition, the Wright court improperly focused on the victim’s motivation for making the 911 call, rather than the government’s use of the statement. Finally, this Note concludes that the Wright court could have affirmed the conviction without narrowing Crawford because Wright had forfeited his right of confrontation by threatening the witnesses.
Alistair Y. Raymond,
Calling Crawford: Minnesota Declares a 911 Call Non-Testimonial in State v. Wright,
Me. L. Rev.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.mainelaw.maine.edu/mlr/vol58/iss1/11