RESPONDENT: Richard Perry Bryant
LOCATION: Wayne County Circuit Court
DOCKET NO.: 09-150
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2010-2016)
LOWER COURT: Michigan Supreme Court
CITATION: 562 US 344 (2011)
GRANTED: Mar 01, 2010
ARGUED: Oct 05, 2010
DECIDED: Feb 28, 2011
Leondra R. Kruger - Acting Deputy Solicitor General, Department of Justice, for the United States, as amicus curiae, supporting the petitioner
Lori B. Palmer - Assistant Prosecuting Attorney, for the petitioner
Peter Jon Van Hoek - for the respondent appointed by the Court
Facts of the case
A Michigan trial court convicted Richard Perry Bryant of second degree murder, being a felon in possession of a firearm, and possession of a firearm during commission of a felony. On appeal, Mr. Bryant challenged the admission of the victim's statements at trial for violating his Sixth Amendment right of confrontation. The victim stated that Mr. Bryant shot him, but died shortly thereafter. The Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed, holding that the statements that the victim made to police before his death were testimonial and their admission violated Mr. Bryant's right to confrontation. The court reasoned that the victim's statements were made in the course of a police interrogation whose primary purpose was to establish or prove events that had already occurred, not to enable police to meet an ongoing emergency. Therefore, the statements were "testimonial" for the purposes of the enhanced confrontation protections set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Crawford v. Washington and should not have been admitted against Mr. Bryant at trial because he did not have the opportunity to cross-examine the victim prior to his death.
Are inquiries of wounded victims concerning the perpetrator non-testimonial if they objectively indicate that the purpose of the interrogation is to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency, and, thus, not afforded heightened protection under Crawford v. Washington?
Media for Michigan v. BryantAudio Transcription for Oral Argument - October 05, 2010 in Michigan v. Bryant
Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - February 28, 2011 in Michigan v. Bryant
Police officers responded to a call that a man had been shot.
They found Anthony -- Anthony Covington lying in a gas station parking lot, bleeding from a mortal gunshot wound to his stomach.
The police officer first asked him, “What happened?”
He told them the respondent Richard Bryant had shot him about 25 minutes earlier in a few blocks away.
Covington died a few hours later.
At Bryant's trial, the police officers testified about what Covington said to them.
Bryant was convicted but on appeal, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed holding that Covington's statements to the police were inadmissible hearsay under our decisions in Crawford versus Washington and Davis versus Washington.
We granted certiorari to decide whether the Michigan Supreme Court was correct that Covington statements were testimonial.
We now reverse.
In Crawford, we held that the confrontation clause in the Sixth Amendment to our Constitution requires that defendants have the opportunity to confront those who provide testimonial evidence against them.
In Davis, we explained that statements made in the course of police interrogations are non-testimonial when they have a primary purpose of enabling police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency.
They are testimonial when they have a primary purpose to establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution.
To determine the primary purpose of an interrogation, we objectively evaluate the statements and actions of the parties to the encounter in light of the circumstances in which the investigation occurs.
The existence of an ongoing emergency or the parties' perception that an emergency is ongoing is among the most important circumstances in forming our analysis.
The scope and duration of an emergency depends on the context including the type of dispute, the type of weapon employed and the medical state of the victim.
The formality or informality of the interaction also sheds lights on its purpose.
In addition, the statements and actions of both the decelerant and interrogators provide important evidence about the interrogation's primary purpose.
In this case, we conclude that the primary purpose of the interrogation was to address an ongoing emergency, first, the circumstances.
Here, an arm shooter whose motive for and location was unknown had mortally -- mortally wounded Covington within a few blocks and a few minutes of where the police found him.
Unlike the domestic violence situation in Davis, this disputes possible scope and thus the emergency potentially threatened the police in the public.
This case also involved a gun.
Turning to the statements and actions of the parties, we first did consider the decelerant.
The police found Covington lying in a gas station parking lot, bleeding from a mortal -- mortal gunshot wound and statements were punctuated with questions about when emergency medical services would arrive.
We cannot say that a person in his situation would have had a primary -- primary purpose of providing testimonial statements.
That is statements to establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution.
For their part, the police responded to a call that a man had been shot.
They did not know why, where or when the shooting had occurred, the shooter's location or anything else about the crime.
They asked exactly the type of questions necessary to enable them to lead an ongoing emergency.
Nothing in Covington's responses indicated that there was no emergency or that the emergency had ended.
Finally, this situation was quite informal.