What the ‘Statement Against Interest’ Hearsay Exception Does — and Doesn’t — Allow in a Maryland Criminal Trial

The rules of evidence say that a party may not use hearsay to prove their case (or disprove the other side’s case,) unless that hearsay evidence falls within one or more of several exceptions laid out in the rules. Parsing these exceptions — and keeping potentially harmful
evidence that falls outside these exceptions out of your trial — is a place where having an experienced Maryland criminal defense lawyer can be vital. Because any criminal trial can come down to what the jury hears — and what they don’t — winning these battles is crucial.

One of those exceptions is something called a “statement against interest.” Maryland Rule 5-804(b)(3) says that hearsay may be admissible if it “so tended to subject the declarant to civil or criminal liability, . . . that a reasonable person in the declarant’s position would not have made the statement unless the person believed it to be true.”

That exception was at the center of a recent drug case from Salisbury. In that case, the Wicomico County Sheriff’s Office raided a home in the early morning hours and recovered 69 bags of suspected crack cocaine, 98 suspected bags of heroin, 17 rounds of .40-caliber ammunition, a digital scale, and six cell phones.

The police arrested and charged three men. One of the three, L.S., was charged with 42 criminal counts related to drugs and weapons.

Two and one-half weeks after the raid, the police interviewed T.B., another of the three men. When L.S. went on trial, the state sought to use the police interview of T.B., which the officer had recorded on a bodycam. The defense objected, but the judge allowed the interview into evidence, and the jury eventually convicted on 12 counts, resulting in a four-year prison sentence.

The Court of Appeals, however, overturned the man’s convictions. The fatal flaw in the trial was the admission of the police interview with T.B. Normally, an interview like the one T.B. had with the police would be considered inadmissible hearsay. In this case, the state’s position — which the trial judge accepted — was that T.B.’s description of the drug operation clearly implicated T.B. in the criminal enterprise, which meant it was a statement against interest.

The problem was not that the trial court drew that conclusion, but rather how the trial court proceeded once it reached that decision.

Parsing a Statement Against Interest

Once the judge decided the interview was a statement against interest, the court allowed the entire statement into evidence. The law in Maryland — as well as the law under U.S. Supreme Court precedent — says that this approach is improper. Instead, the law requires the court to parse (or separate) the statements that tend to incriminate the interviewee from those that don’t, then admit the former into evidence while excluding the latter as hearsay outside any exception. As the Supreme Court stated in 1994, “the most faithful reading of Rule 804(b)(3) is that it does not allow admission of non-self-inculpatory statements, even if they are made within a broader narrative that is generally self-inculpatory.”

As a result, the case against L.S. included inadmissible hearsay and his convictions could not stand.

Whether it’s conducting a deposition, arguing a pretrial motion, raising objections at trial, or any other of the countless steps involved in presenting a powerful defense, you can rely on the knowledgeable Maryland criminal defense attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation and find out how we can help you put together the strongest defense possible.

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