Death of “The Dude”: Moot Court to Hear Oral Arguments in Treehorn v. California
The Ninth Circuit Moot Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case of Treehorn v. California. Current JS205 (Law & Courts) graduate students representing either the Appellant Jackson Treehorn or the Appellee State of California will present their cases before a three-judge panel comprised of JS faculty members (the Honorable M. Stevenson, Chief Judge, the Honorable C. Hebert and the Honorable A. Pedneault presiding).
A jury convicted Appellant, Jackson Treehorn of first-degree premeditated murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. These convictions stemmed from Appellant’s killing of Jeffrey Lebowski. The court sentenced Treehorn to life imprisonment for his murder conviction and a consecutive two-year term of imprisonment for his felony-firearm conviction.
Appellant contends that the trial court erred when it permitted police officers to testify that Lebowski identified the Appellant as his killer. The record reflects that within minutes police officers responding to a call apprehended the Appellant fleeing the bowling alley and placed him under arrest for carrying a firearm. Police then entered the bowling alley where witnesses said they heard gunshots coming from the lounge. Immediately upon entering the lounge, police officers discovered “Gary” the bartender hiding behind the bar and Lebowski lying on the floor next to a barstool, bleeding profusely from gunshot wounds. Police asked Lebowski to identify the shooter. Lebowski at first hesitated, but after the officers advised Lebowski that he “might not make it”, they asked him to identify his assailant. Lebowski identified the Appellant by name, as the shooter. Within minutes, emergency medical personnel arrived and an additional police officer arrived who again advised Lebowski that he would not live much longer and asked him to identify his assailant. Once again, Lebowski identified the Appellant as the shooter, and according to both officers at the scene, stated, “Go get him fella’s”. Afterwards, Lebowski fell into a coma, which lasted several months until Lebowski died from his gunshot wounds.
The Appellant will argue Lebowski’s statements to police officers identifying the Appellant as the killer are hearsay and therefore inadmissible at trial. The Supreme Court in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), established that the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution recognizes an accused’s right to be confronted with the witnesses against him and that “testimonial” hearsay is categorically inadmissible in a criminal trial. Thus, the Supreme Court requires that for hearsay to be admitted against a defendant in a criminal trial, the declarant (witness) must be unavailable and the statement must have been subjected to prior cross-examination.
Alternatively, the Appellee, State of California, will argue that in a recent case, Michigan v. Bryant, 562 U. S. ____ (2011), the Supreme Court further distinguished “testimonial” statements (hearsay) from “nontestimonial” ones (statements that are not hearsay and otherwise admissible in criminal trials) for the purposes of the Sixth Amendment. It created an objective test requiring courts to examine not only the intent or “primary purpose” of the declarant’s statement but also that of the entire encounter. Moreover, Appellee’s will maintain that the Crawford Court left open the question of whether the “testimonial-nontestimonial” distinction is applicable to statements that fall within the long-established dying declaration exception to the hearsay rule. The exception permits statement made by an unavailable declarant under the belief of impending death. Thus, dying declarations, though hearsay, are admissible.
The oral arguments are set to begin on May 15, 2013 at 4:30 p.m. in MacQuarrie Hall, Room 526. Visitors are welcome, but space is limited.