Dutton v. Evans

LOCATION: Gwinnett County Courthouse

DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1970-1971)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit

CITATION: 400 US 74 (1970)
REARGUED: Oct 15, 1970
DECIDED: Dec 15, 1970
ARGUED: Oct 15, 1969

Alfred L. Evans, Jr. - for the appellant
Erwin N. Griswold - for the United States as amicus curiae on reargument
Robert B. Thompson - for the appellee

Facts of the case

A jury convicted Alex Evans of murder. The prosecution presented 20 witnesses who described Evans’ participation in the murder. A prison inmate testified that one of Evans’ conspirators in the murder said “we wouldn’t be in this now” if it weren’t for Evans. Evans’ counsel questioned the inmate, but still argued that Evans’ right to confrontation was violated because they could not confront the conspirator. The judge overruled Evans’ objection citing a Georgia statute that allows admission of conspirator’s statements against co-conspirators. The Supreme Court of Georgia affirmed the conviction.

Evans filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. The district court denied the writ, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the Georgia statute violates Evans right to confrontation because it is broader than the rule used in federal conspiracy trials. The court found no “cogent reasons” for the Georgia hearsay exception.


Did admitting the prison inmate’s statement under the Georgia hearsay exception violate the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause?

Media for Dutton v. Evans

Audio Transcription for Oral Reargument - October 15, 1970 in Dutton v. Evans

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 15, 1969 in Dutton v. Evans

Warren E. Burger:

Dutton against Evans.

Good morning, Gentlemen.

You may proceed whenever you’re ready, Mr. Evans.

Alfred L. Evans, Jr.:

Mr. Chief Justice Burger and may it please the Court.

This case presents the question of whether the hearsay rule is to be read into and equated with this Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment.

The factual setting in which the setting arose was petitioner Evans’ trial for murder in connection with the slaying of three police officers in Gwinnett County, Georgia.

The principal witness for the state was Wade Truett, an accomplice who turns state evidence.

Truett has testified as an eyewitness to all material details of the triple slaying.

Truett’s testimony is not here in question and I will not go into it in great detail.

However, I do think it may be appropriate to touch upon the highlights of his testimony.

After relating the essential elements of a car theft conspiracy, Truett testified how long with the petitioner Evans and one Venson Eugene Williams, they stole a car in Atlanta, Georgia.

The stolen car was driven to a rural location in nearby Gwinnett County where they decided they would change the license place-- plates and the ignition switch.

While in the process of changing the plates and the switch, they were apprehended by the three soon-to-die police officers.

Unfortunately, the youngest officer, while bending over the front seat of the car to examine the ignition switch, put himself in such a position as to enable Evans to remove his revolver.

Evans ordered all three officers to raise their hands.

They were then disarmed and manacled with their own handcuffs.

At this point, Truett took the police car and drove it off into the woods for concealment.

As he was returning to the spot where Evans and Williams were with the three police officers, he heard what sounded to him to be-- he described it as a nickel pack of firecrackers going off.

Upon his arrival, he saw the police officers on the ground still handcuffed together.

One police officer was making a peculiar sound.

He then saw Williams bend over and fire two or three more times into the police officer while Evans held the flashlight.

Truett’s testimony was corroborated by physical evidence as well as the evidence of other witnesses.

It is a testimony of one of the corroborating witnesses which gives rise to the questions which are presented to the Court today.

The witness in question is Linwood Shaw.

Shaw was a fellow inmate of Venson Eugene Williams in the Federal Penitentiary at the time Williams was arraigned for the murder.

On the day following his arraignment, Shaw asked Williams how he made out.

The rather spontaneous exclamation reply was “if it hadn’t been for that dirty SOB Alex Evans, we wouldn’t be in this now.”

The testimony was admitted over objection.

The Trial Court based its ruling upon the fact that the state, in the opinion of the Trial Court, had made out a prima facie case of an auto theft conspiracy and the statement was therefore admissible under the exception to the hearsay rule for co-conspirators, an exception which is provided by statute in Georgia.

William J. Brennan, Jr.:

Evans was tried separately--