Former Patriot Aaron Hernandez: MA Rules of Evidence May be the Key to Winning His Criminal Trial
December 22, 2014
Massachusetts Rules of Evidence are very important when it comes to winning a criminal trial. On Friday, December 19th, Superior Court Judge Garsh ruled that text messages sent from Odin Lloyd minutes before he was shot and killed cannot be shown to the jury during New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez’s first-degree murder trial.
The text messages were sent from Lloyd right before his death to his sister: “U saw who I was with … NFL … Just so U know.” These text messages are hearsay and generally inadmissible as evidence (explained below). The prosecution wished to present these text messages as evidence that Lloyd knew he was about to die and who was going to kill him. A “dying declaration” is an exception to the ban on hearsay (explained below). The prosecution’s theory is that Hernandez killed Lloyd because he knew too much about a 2012 double-murder that Hernandez has recently been charged with as well. Judge Garsh, however, ruled that the messages did not suggest Lloyd feared for his life, there was no credible basis for linking Lloyd’s killing with the double-murder, and the prosecution’s argument was speculative. The defense considers this a huge victory.
Rules of evidence govern whether and for what purpose proof of a legal case may be placed before a trier of fact (usually a jury) for consideration.1. Hearsay
In general, hearsay is not admissible as evidence. Hearsay is an out-of-court statement introduced to prove the truth of the matter stated. To put it more simply, hearsay is the report of another person by a witness. Hearsay is generally not allowed to be introduced as evidence because it is unreliable. Think of the “telephone game” you played as a kid. The first person says something and by the end of the game the person’s words are totally different. That’s the reason hearsay is generally inadmissible. There are many exceptions to the hearsay rule where the out-of-court statement can be introduced as evidence. The exceptions have been created because certain out-of-court statements are usually more reliable. One of them is called a “dying declaration.”2. Dying Declaration
A dying declaration is testimony that normally would be precluded as hearsay but may be admitted because it was the last words of a dying person. The traditional reason for this exception is that “a man will not meet his Maker with a lie on his mouth.” The non-religious explanation is that a person who believes they are going to die any moment has no reason to fabricate or lie, and therefore the statement is more reliable. For the dying declaration to be admissible, it must be made when the person actually believed their death was imminent and must also relate to the cause of their death. The prosecution in the Hernandez case argued that this exception applied to Lloyd’s text messages, but the judge ruled that he was not in fear for his life at the time the text messages were sent.3. Other Crimes, Wrongs, Bad Acts
You may be wondering how the 2012 double-murder that Hernandez is charged with as well is going to come into play here. It probably won’t come into play at all. Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity. In other words, just because a person committed a similar crime in the past does not mean that they committed the present crime. The reason evidence of prior crimes or wrongs is not admissible is because a jury may automatically believe that the defendant acted in conformity with their past bad actions (“once a cheat, always a cheat”) – or the jury may want to “punish” the defendant during this trial for the prior acts. The general ban on evidence of prior crimes is a way to keep the jury focused on the case at hand.
Massachusetts Rules of Evidence and the inadmissibility of hearsay and evidence of prior crimes are safeguards to protect defendants against unnecessarily prejudicial or irrelevant evidence that may confuse or distract the jury. One important reason to obtain a lawyer, is that he or she should be familiar with rules of evidence. That could be the key to winning your case.