Wednesday, October 24th, 2007


United States v. Williams, No. 05-6036-cr (2d Cir. October 23, 2007) (Newman, Walker, Straub, CJJ).

In this curious but very troubling case, the court seems to have concluded, sub silentio, that Crawford trumps Bruton.

Brothers Bobby and Michael Williams were tried for a drug-related triple homicide. Neither brother testified. At trial, over objection, the court permitted two civilian witnesses to testify that, after the shootings, Bobby made statements to them admitting his involvement in the shootings. Some of those statements implicated Michael. On appeal, Michael argued that the admission of Bobby’s statements violated the Confrontation Clause and Fed.R.Evid. 804(b)(3).

Obviously, Michael’s Confrontation Clause claim raises Bruton issues; indeed, this is the classic Bruton situation – the out-of-court statement of one defendant is used against a co-defendant. But here, the court never even got to Bruton. It held that Bobby’s out of court remarks were not “testimonial” under Crawford, and thus “our Confrontation Clause inquiry is at an end.” In other words, the court denied the Bruton claim without even mentioning Bruton.

This case, if it stands, would limit Bruton to cases where the co-defendant’s out-of-court statement was taken by the police, or is otherwise “testimonial” for some reason. The court might well be right – although only the Supremes will tell us for sure. But one would have hoped that if the court really wanted to take on such a radical and new issue (as of this writing, no other Circuit has so held), it would come out and say so directly, rather than leaving the entire bar to guess. Let’s that hope the Williams brothers file cert petitions.

Another troubling aspect of this case is the court’s treatment of the “declaration against interest” issue. Michael would seem to have a strong claim that those portions of Bobby’s statements that implicated Michael were not sufficiently against Bobby’s interest to render them trustworthy. It was surely against Bobby’s interest to admit his own role in the murders, and, at least arguably, it was against his interest to admit that he acted with another person. But identifying that other person was not against Bobby’s interest at all; at best, it would seem to have been neutral to his interests. But the court did not see it that way. It held that since Bobby was not “attempting to minimize his own culpability, shift blame onto Michael, or curry favor with the authorities” his statements that mentioned Michael were “sufficiently self-inculpatory.”

Finally, this case has a fairly good discussion of the court’s current views on Daubert, in the context of ballistics.

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