Chambers v. Mississippi

410 U.S. 284 (1973)

Facts

Officers Liberty and Forman went to a bar to execute an arrest warrant for Jackson. A hostile crowd gathered. Liberty was shot with bullets from a .22 caliber revolver and later died. Several witnesses testified that after Liberty was shot, they saw him take deliberate aim with a shotgun and shoot Chambers (D) in the back of the head. A deputy sheriff testified that he saw that D had a gun in his hand. McDonald was also in the crowd on the night Liberty was shot. He had left town, but returned several months later and gave a sworn written confession to Liberty's murder to D's attorneys. Additionally, McDonald stated that he had already told someone else about the murder and that he had used a .22 caliber revolver. In response to questioning, McDonald stated that his confession was voluntary. However, McDonald later repudiated the confession at a preliminary hearing. The repudiation was accepted, McDonald was released from custody, and his involvement in the incident was not further investigated. Part of D's defense at trial was that McDonald was the shooter. D presented testimony of witnesses who claimed to have seen McDonald shoot Liberty, or who saw him with a pistol in his hand immediately after the shooting. Additionally, D attempted to show that McDonald had repeatedly confessed to the shooting. He filed a pretrial motion requesting the court to order McDonald to appear. He also sought a ruling that, if the state did not call McDonald, D would be allowed to call him as an adverse witness. The court granted the first motion and reserved judgment on the second. At trial, the state did not call McDonald, and the court allowed D to call him. McDonald’s statement was admitted through his testimony. On cross-examination, the state elicited from McDonald the fact that he had repudiated his confession and got him to give his subsequent account of his actions on the night of the shooting. D then renewed his motion to examine McDonald as an adverse witness, the court denied the motion because McDonald's testimony was not adverse to D, insofar as he did not 'point the finger' at D. The state Supreme Court upheld the trial court's ruling. D then sought to introduce the testimony of the three witnesses to whom McDonald admitted he had shot Liberty. The state objected to this testimony as hearsay, and the trial court refused to admit it. Under the Federal Rules, the testimony would be admissible as declarations against interest, because the statements to which the witnesses were to testify were against McDonald's penal interest. However, while the state did recognize the declarations against interest exception to the hearsay rule, it went only to statements against the declarant's pecuniary interest. The statements were therefore inadmissible under the state rule. D appeals.