Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Can murder victim's statements be used at trial?

Dwayne Giles complains that his former girlfriend's statements should not have been used against him at his murder trial because the woman couldn't be cross-examined.

Her absence wasn't a result of a scheduling conflict. She was dead. And Giles killed her.

Three California courts that have considered Giles' claim have said, in effect, "You must be kidding."

Now, though, the Supreme Court, in arguments scheduled for Tuesday, is hearing Giles' case to see whether the use during his trial of statements the girlfriend made to a Los Angeles police officer violated his constitutional right to confront witnesses against him.

The issue the court has agreed to resolve is when defendants forfeit that right. It is already clear that a defendant who kills someone to prevent him from testifying may not come into court and seek to exclude prior statements by the dead person.

But this case is one in which there were no charges pending against Giles when he shot Brenda Avie dead with a 9-millimeter handgun outside his grandmother's house in September 2002.

A few weeks earlier, Avie told a police officer that Giles assaulted and threatened to kill her. The officer testified about the conversation at Giles' trial, over his lawyer's objection.

Giles claimed he acted in self-defense, fearing that Avie was armed. She wasn't. Giles also testified that Avie behaved erratically and threatened to kill both him and his new girlfriend on the night she died.