Friday, January 27th, 2006

Error in Precluding Non-Hearsay Testimony as Hearsay Found Harmless

United States v. Song, Docket No. 05-1802-cr (2d Cir. Jan. 27, 2006) (Cabranes, Sack, Amon (by desig’n): The Circuit upholds Song’s conviction for transporting illegal aliens in this short opinion. The Court agreed with Song that the district court erred — badly, badly erred — when it precluded him from testifying about certain statements made to him by persons “who had allegedly hired [him] to serve as a tour guide after he had responded to a [Korean language] advertisement seeking ‘drivers’ for unspecified purposes.” Song wanted to use these statements to “demonstrate the motivation behind [his] actions,” — i.e., to show that he did not knowingly transport illegal aliens. Since Song was not offering these statements for their truth — indeed, his defense was that these false statements induced him to believe that he was driving some tourists around — they should not have been barred as hearsay. (Query: Isn’t this something that even a 1-L knows?)

The Circuit found the error harmless, however, because (1) Song’s basic defense was otherwise adequately presented to the jury, and (2) “the Government presented overwhelming evidence that Song had acted with ‘reckless disregard’ of the undocumented or illegal status of his alien passengers.” Op. 4.

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