NJ Supreme Court disapproves of res gestae doctrine

N.J. SUPREME COURT FORMALLY ABANDONS RES GESTAE DOCTRINE

The N.J. Law Journal reports:

The res gestae doctrine — a common law hearsay exception for certain statements accompanying relevant acts — has been rendered largely irrelevant by the Rules of Evidence and no longer will be given effect, the state Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.

“[W]e disapprove of the future use of res gestae to support evidential rulings,” Justice Jaynee LaVecchia wrote for the majority in State v. Rose, A-111-09.

LaVecchia, in upholding admission of testimony by jailhouse snitches that led to Zarik Rose’s conviction for the contract murder of Charles Mosley, said the evidence was covered by a “straightforward application” of Rule 404(b), which allows evidence of “other crimes, wrongs, or acts” to be admitted as long as not for the purpose of showing a propensity to commit the crime.

The story

Rose, while in the Gloucester County Jail awaiting trial for an earlier attempt on Mosley’s life in 1995, met and befriended another inmate, Larry Graves, and when he got out he solicited Graves to kill Mosley, so Mosley could not testify against him. Rose promised Graves $2,000 or $3,000, but never paid him. While back in jail on the attempted murder charge, Rose told another inmate, Salvatore Puglia, that he wanted Mosley “whacked.”

Both Graves and Puglia testified against Rose after Gloucester County Superior Court Judge Walter Marshall Jr. ruled their testimony admissible under Rule 404(b) and res gestae. Though defense counsel did not object to their testimony, Marshall

“repeatedly provided the jury with limiting instructions about its use of the evidence,” LaVecchia said.

Historical background of res gestae doctrine

Res gestae, which in New Jersey dates to 1878, allows admission of an out-of-court statement accompanying an act relevant to the case, on the theory that such an utterance is an integral part of the witness account and that spontaneous statements, by their very nature, have a high degree of trustworthiness.

To be considered res gestae, a statement has to be so connected with an act as to constitute a part of it. Examples are statements that express the declarant’s state of mind, present bodily condition, and present sense impression, as well as excited utterances.

But res gestae emerged at a time when there were no rules of evidence, and those uses of the doctrine have now been codified as hearsay exceptions.

Dissent

Rivera-Soto, in his dissent, said “the majority’s discussion is plain dicta, deserving of no jurisprudential value; and the majority’s reasoning and conclusions are ill-conceived and simply in error,” he said.

“I cannot join in the wholesale and needless abandonment of a time-honored doctrine for what are less-than-convincing reasons.”

Read more…

State v Zarik Rose-A11109-NJ Supreme Court

 

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About Lawrence "Larry" Berezin

I retired from the private practice of law after a 35-year legal career and fight parking tickets for people like you and me. I love sharing valuable information, tips and tricks to help drivers beat NYC parking tickets.

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