Case Brief: State v. Kanem Williamson (A-65-19)(083979)

Submitted by New Jersey Criminal Lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.


Plaintiff: State of New Jersey
Defendant: Kanem Williamson

Proc. Hist.:         Trial Court allowed the admission of hearsay evidence under the “dying declaration” exception.  Appellate Division affirmed; Supreme Court granted review.

Facts:                  In the spring of 2014, A.B. was shot multiple times and found in a pool of blood outside the steps of a housing complex.  A.B. was able to be revived at the hospital but was grievously injured.  Injuries included a damaged spine, resulting in quadriplegia, and the loss of A.B.’s ability to breathe on their own.  A.B. was informed by doctors that death may be imminent.

Detective Padilla who had been following investigative leads learned from defendant’s father that defendant had admitted to shooting A.B.  Upon learning this information, Padilla obtained defendant’s mugshot and went to question A.B. as to the identity of her attacker.  A.B. was able to communicate through nodding and shaking her head.  A.B. positively identified defendant in the mugshot.  A.B. subsequently died eleven months later.

Issue:                  Did the trial court abuse its discretion by admitting A.B.’s identification of defendant as a dying declaration; and whether the admission of A. B’s identification violated defendant’s right to confrontation.

Holding:              The trial court did not violate the defendant’s right to confrontation, nor did it abuse its discretion by allowing the admission of the hearsay evidence.

Rule:                    Dying Declaration
(1) The dying declaration exception is enshrined in N.J.R.E. 804(b)(2).  Pursuant to that rule a statement made by a victim unavailable as a witness is admissible if it was made “voluntarily and in good faith and while the declarant believed in the immense of the declarant’s impending death.”

“Belief of immense death”, see State v. Prall, 231 N.J. 567, 585 (2018) requires a “settled hopeless expectation that death is near at hand, and what is said must have been spoken in the hush of its impending presence,” Shepard v. United States, 290 U.S. 96, 100 (1933).  A dying declaration is no less reliable because the victim has survived.  “Despair of recovery may be gathered from the circumstances.

Right to Confrontation
(2) The right to confrontation is protected by Article I, Paragraph 10 of the New Jersey Constitution and the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  Crawford v. Washington, the United States Supreme Court held that “[w]here testimonial evidence is at issue . . . the Sixth Amendment demands what the common law required: unavailability and a prior opportunity for cross-examination.” 541 U.S. 36, 68 (2004).  The protections of the Confrontation Clause those apply to all out-of-court statements that are “testimonial.”  Crawford provided exceptions to the confrontation clause, which were exceptions “that were established at the time of the founding.” Id. at 54.  And noted specifically, the exception for dying declarations

The New Jersey Supreme Court then turns to Giles v. California, 554 U.S (2008) which seeks to answer whether dying declarations are exceptions to the Confrontation Clause.  Giles reaffirms founding-era common law exceptions to the right of confrontation.  The New Jersey Supreme Court determined after review of pre-Crawford cases that acknowledge the keying declaration as an exception to the defendant’ confrontation rights at common law, as well as three 18th century English cases that recognized the exception.

Reasoning:         Dying Declaration:
(1) The Court reasoned that A.B. had been shot five times, was unresponsive with no pulse and had to be resuscitated.  She was informed of her grave injuries and the possibility of imminent risk of death.  She proceeded to cry after this information and began to answer the detectives questions.  These actions signaled voluntary movements that were made in good faith on the belief of her impending death.

Right to Confrontation:
(2) Utilizing Giles and analyzing pre-Crawford cases the Court determined that the dying declaration did not violate the right to confrontation and was in conformity of Crawford.  Therefore, Defendant’s right to confrontation was not offended.

Disposition:       Affirmed.

Criminal Civil Lawyer

Jeffrey Hark is a New Jersey Civil and Criminal Lawyer.

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