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National Crime Victim Law Institute

State v. Supanchick, — P.3d —, Nos. CC 200525537, CA A139011, SC S060017, 2014 WL 576069 (Or. Feb. 13, 2014).

March 19, 2014

Defendant was convicted of the aggravated murder of his estranged wife, whom he murdered during an attempt to force her to recant allegations of physical and emotional abuse that formed the basis of a restraining order against him, and to give him custody of his daughter and leave the state.  When defendant’s plan was not immediately successful and police officers approached his location, defendant shot his wife.  The trial court, over defendant’s objection, admitted into evidence a number of statements made by the victim in connection with her application for a restraining order.  The court found that defendant had killed the victim “with the purpose of eliminating her as a witness.”  The court of appeals affirmed defendant’s conviction, and defendant sought review by the Oregon Supreme Court, arguing first that the evidence insufficiently established the intent necessary to justify the admission of the victim’s statements. Defendant further argued that the relevant evidentiary rule, as well as the Oregon Constitution and the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution all incorporated a requirement that that a statement’s reliability be independently proven prior to its admission into evidence.  Finally, defendant argued that the victim’s statements were so unreliable that their admission violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  The Oregon Supreme Court affirmed defendant’s conviction, holding that a defendant need not have the single purpose of eliminating an individual as a witness for the forfeiture by wrongdoing rule to apply; similarly, the rule does not “require that one purpose predominate over another.”  Indeed, as the court observed: “Acts of domestic violence that culminate in murder can reflect a complex of motives; limiting forfeiture by wrongdoing to those instances in which the defendant’s primary motive or purpose was to make the declarant unavailable would undercut” the United States Supreme Court’s “explanation of the ways in which the forfeiture doctrine will apply in domestic violence cases.” Defendant’s assertions that a statement must be separately examined for reliability before its admission into evidence were also rejected.  The court affirmed that “forfeiture by wrongdoing has roots in equity, not reliability,” holding that neither the state constitution, nor the federal constitution or rule of evidence requires a separate inquiry into reliability. Finally, the court found that defendant failed to demonstrate that the victim’s statements, which were made “in anticipation of litigation,” were so unreliable as to violate the Due Process Clause, which would be violated by such things as “the knowing use of false evidence or perjured testimony,” or evidence “tainted by police arrangement.”  The decisions of the court of appeals and the trial court were affirmed.

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