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§ 908.03(3), State of Mind

State v. Daniel H. Kutz, 2003 WI App 205, PFR filed 10/27/03
For Kutz: T. Christopher Kelly

Issue: Whether statements made by the declarant to others describing various threats made by the defendant were admissible under the state-of-mind hearsay exception, § 908.03(3).


¶60                        Since there are no Wisconsin cases that have resolved this issue, we look to federal cases for guidance in applying the same rule.  The federal cases appear consistent in construing this rule to admit a declarant’s statement of his or her feelings to prove only how the declarant feels and not to admit a declarant’s statements of the cause of those feelings to prove certain events occurred.[33]  The cases reason that this construction is necessary to give meaning to the restriction plainly stated in the rule.  See, e.g., United States v. Cohen, 631 F.2d 1223, 1225 (5th Cir. 1980).

¶61                        The State has brought to our attention five cases from other state courts—three of them from North Carolina—that do admit under this exception statements by the declarant relating to factual events that tend to show the victim’s state of mind, in order to prove those events occurred.[34]  However, this appears to be a minority view among the states.[35]  In any event, we do not consider the reasoning of the State’s cases persuasive in construing and applying the state-of-mind exception.  Their analysis tends to focus not on the language or the purpose of the exception, but on the relevance of the defendant’s conduct to the victim’s state of mind and the relevance of the victim’s state of mind to the charges, using a balancing test similar to Wis. Stat. § 904.03 to guard against unfair prejudice.[36]  However, as the court in Capano v. State, 781 A.2d 556, 611 (Del. 2001), pointed out in rejecting the approach of those cases, the “[h]earsay rule is designed to exclude statements untested by cross-examination that are insufficiently reliable due to possible defects in the declarant’s memory, perception or veracity,” while the analysis of rules such as § 904.03 “assumes that these reliability concerns are overcome and focuses on balancing the effects of the statement on the jury.”

Thus, the trial court erred in admitting the statements under the state-of-mind exception to prove that the threats they related had in fact been made. ¶62. (State v. Jackson, 187 Wis. 2d 431, 435-36, 532 N.W.2d 126 (Ct. App. 1994) limited and distinguished, ¶59.

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