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Die Another Day: Ohio Court Finds Victim’s Clicking Noises Qualify as Dying Declarations, by Colin Miller, Editor, EvidenceProf Blog


According to an article in the Ledger-Enquirer,

Three years ago Calvin Grimes lay in intensive care, paralyzed from the neck down, with a gunshot wound to his windpipe.

He could not speak. All he could do was click with his mouth.

In the hospital with machines breathing for him, he could not tell Columbus police who fired the shots Aug. 19, 2010, that left him slumped in a car at 543 Third Ave., with two .40-caliber bullets lodged in his trachea and his spinal canal, and with exit wounds from .22-caliber bullets in his left wrist, upper left thigh and right buttock.

Because Grimes could not vocalize the names of his assailants, Detective Wayne Fairburn improvised as he questioned Grimes in the hospital Oct. 11, 201[0].

Fairburn reported Grimes first mouthed the name ‘Jarvis” when asked who shot him. The detective then wrote the alphabet out on his note pad, and asked Grimes to make the clicking noise as Fairburn pointed to each letter, signaling the sequence to spell names.

Using this method, Fairburn got Grimes to spell ‘Jarvis Alexander’ and ‘Josh Leonard.’ Two days later the officer returned with photographs of those suspects, which Grimes identified as the men who shot him.

Later Grimes was fitted with a device that enabled him to speak, and relatives reported he told them the same names.

Should Grimes’s ‘statements’ be deemed admissible as dying declarations?

That’s a tough question, but one that the trial judge answered in the affirmative, ruling that Fairburn and Grimes’s family could testify because Grimes died on June 26, 2011. Was this the correct ruling?

Ohio Rule of Evidence 804(B)(2) provides an exception to the rule against hearsay

In a prosecution for homicide or in a civil action or proceeding, [for] a statement made by a declarant, while believing that his or her death was imminent, concerning the cause or circumstances of what the declarant believed to be his or her impending death.

The primary question was whether Grimes’s statements were made while he believed his death to be imminent. The evidence showed that ‘Grimes eventually was able to leave the hospital to live with his mother, but an infection in his torso sent him back. That’s when Grimes told his mother, Mama, I’m right with God. You’ve got to forgive Joshua and Jarvis because I have.’

The article doesn’t make the time line in the case 100% clear, but it does raise this possibility: Grimes first identified his assailants when he did not believe his death was imminent, and Grimes then re-identified his assailants when he did believe his death was imminent. And if that were the case, I’m not sure the dying declaration exception should apply.

The typical case of the dying declaration exception applying consists of a victim being shot, stabbed, etc. and telling the EMT, doctor etc., ‘Defendant did this’ as he believes his death to be imminent. But what if a victim is shot, and the EMT tells the victim he has a good chance of surviving. Then, the victim says, ‘Defendant shot me.’ Then, days later, the victim’s condition worsens, and he says, ‘Tell defendant I forgive him’ while believing his death to be imminent.

No, this might or might not be the case for Grimes. But, assuming it is, should a subsequent statement of identification be admissible under the dying declarations exception?