Tuesday, August 05, 2008

S.C. Supreme Court offers guidance on excited utterances

Under South Carolina law, three elements must be met in order for a statement to be an excited utterance: (1) the statement must relate to a startling event or condition; (2) the statement must have been made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement; and (3) the stress of excitement must be caused by the startling event or condition.

In State v. Washington, almost two hours following a homicide, Cropper gave a statement to police. At trial, the State sought to introduce this statement through the interviewing officer as an excited utterance. The Officer testified in camera that at approximately 9:30 p.m., he transported Cropper from the crime scene to the police station and began taking her statement at approximately 11:00 p.m. He described Cropper as being extremely upset and distraught over the incident. The Officer further explained that the statement consisted of a written narrative of the incident, which Cropper wrote, and three pages of questions and answers, which the Officer transcribed. Additionally, the Officer testified that after another officer informed Cropper during the interview that Victim had died, she became hysterical. The Supreme Court held that Cropper’s statement to police does not qualify as excited utterance.

Cropper made her statements in a formal interview with law enforcement at police headquarters almost ninety minutes after the events. These statements were made in response to the Officer’s questions. None of the statements were independent assertions or exclamations regarding the events. Indeed, it is apparent that the Officer was seeking detailed answers regarding the specific facts of the incident as opposed to emotional, unprompted, or inherent responses. While we have no doubt that Cropper was certainly upset as a result of the stabbing, the trial court’s finding that statements made in a formal interview or interrogation to be excited utterances greatly expands the scope of the exception.

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