Shepard v. United States Case Brief

Why is the case important?

The defendant was convicted of poisoning his wife, allegedly because he was in love with another woman and wanted to marry her. At trial, the prosecution attempted to admit evidence of a conversation that the dying woman had with her nurse, in which she had implicated the defendant.

Facts of the case

“Reginald Shepard pled guilty to violating the federal statute prohibiting a felon from possessing a gun. The government argued Shepard’s sentence should be enhanced under the Armed Career Criminal Act (ACCA). The act added at least a 15-year sentence for any felon with three or more “”violent felony”” convictions who then possessed a gun. The government argued at least five of the 11 breaking and entering convictions on Shepard’s record were violent felonies. The ACCA listed “”burglary”” as a violent felony and in Taylor v. U.S.(1990) the U.S. Supreme Court said the act meant “”generic burglary”” of a “”building or other structure.”” However the Massachusetts burglary law Shepard pled guilty to breaking gave burglary a nongeneric definition – including entry into non-structures like cars. Shepard argued he had not pled guilty to generic robbery. The federal district court refused to sentence Shepard under the ACCA. The First Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and said the district court must consider evidence that showed it was obvious to Shepard that he pled guilty to generic robbery. The district court refused. The First Circuit reversed and sentenced Shepard under the ACCA.”


Whether the statements of the dying woman were admissible under the dying declaration exception to the hearsay rule?
Whether the statements that the dying woman made to her nurse were admissible to show her state of mind, thus qualifying as an exception to the hearsay rule?


No. There was no evidence that the statements were made under the shadow of impending death, or that the patient had lost all hope of recovery. Indeed, in statements that she made later to her doctor, she implored him to make her well.
No. These statements looked backward in time and thus did not fall under the Hillmon doctrine, allowing admission of statements that would show the state of mind or intention of an unavailable declarant.


The testimony was neither offered nor received for the strained and narrow purpose now suggested as legitimate. It was offered and received as proof of a dying declaration. A trial may become unfair if testimony offered and erroneously accepted for one purpose, is used in an appellate court as though admitted for a different purpose, unavowed and unsuspected.

  • Case Brief: 2005
  • Petitioner: Reginald Shepard
  • Respondent: United States
  • Decided by: Rehnquist Court

Citation: 544 US 13 (2005)
Granted Jun 21, 2004
Argued: Nov 8, 2004
Decided: Mar 7, 2005