State v. Pugh: WA Supremes Admit “Excited Utterance” Hearsay Evidence of 911 Call; Disregard State v. Crawford

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In State v. Pugh, the WA Supreme Court admitted “Excited Utterance” hearsay evidence of a 911 call, thus disregarding State v. Crawford.

Defendant Timothy Pugh and his wife Bridgette are married.  They had problems.  In November 2004, she obtains a no-contact order (NCO) against him.  On March 21, 2005, and in violation of the NCO, the Pughs were together at a friend’s apartment.  At 3:13 a.m., she calls 911 and states, “My husband was beating me up really bad.”

She provided his description.  When the operator asked her whether he was still there, Mrs. Pugh said, “He’s just outside.” She again reported being beaten, but this time stated it in the present sense.  She also said she needed an ambulance.  The call terminated when police officers arrived.  Mrs. Pugh had a bruised face and a chipped tooth.  The officers soon arrested Mr. Pugh in the parking lot outside the apartment where Bridgette was.

Before trial, the State delivered a subpoena to Mrs. Pugh.  However she refused to arrive and/or testify at trial.  Despite her decision, and in clear violation of State v. Crawford (2004 case where WA Supremes upheld the Confrontation Clause and dismissed a case where the State’s victim/witness refused to testify) , the trial court admitted her 911 call as evidence.  Pugh was convicted of felony violation of the court order, domestic violence.

 The WA Supremes held Mrs. Pugh’s statements to the 911 operator were nontestimonial, and therefore admission of a recording of the 911 call at Mr. Pugh’s trial did not violate his right to confrontation under the Sixth Amendment.  They reasoned that her statements qualify as res gestae under the res gestae doctrine as it applied at the time the state constitution was adopted.

They further argued that statements of this type do not implicate the state confrontation clause.  Because the statements are nontestimonial and do not implicate article I, section 22, admission of the 911 recording violated neither the federal nor the state confrontation clause.

My opinion?  I hold the same disdain as Justice Sanders’ dissenting opinion.  Article I, Section 22 of the WA Constitution states, “In criminal prosecutions the accused shall have the right . . . to meet the witnesses against him face to face . . .”  This is the essence of the Confrontation Clause.

And, to quote Justice Sanders, “What is there about face to face that the majority opinion does not understand?”  Crawford applies – and cases get dismissed – if a victim refuses to testify.  Period.  Here, the victim refused to testify.  Nevertheless, and in total violation of Crawford, the majority pulls out some archaic res gestae analysis, breathes life into it, and totally stomps the heck out of Crawford.


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