THE STATE OF SOUTH CAROLINA
In The Supreme Court
The State, Respondent,
Joseph E. Garcia, Appellant.
Appeal From Chester County
Paul E. Short, Jr., Circuit Court Judge
Opinion No. 24896
Heard December 16, 1998 - Filed February 8, 1999
David L. Bruck and Assistant Appellate Defender
Melody J. Brown, of South Carolina Office of
Appellate Defense, of Columbia, for appellant.
Attorney General Charles M. Condon, Chief Deputy
Attorney General John W. McIntosh, Assistant
Deputy Attorney General Donald J. Zelenka,
Special Assistant Attorney General Robert F. Daley,
Jr., of Columbia; and Solicitor John R. Justice, of
Chester, for respondent.
BURNETT, A.J.: Appellant was convicted of murder and
sentenced to life imprisonment. We reverse.
Appellant admitted he shot and killed his girlfriend, Holly
Crouch Collins' while the two were at home on the evening of July 19,
1996. Appellant maintained the shooting was an accident. There were no
Over appellant's objection, the State presented witnesses who
testified, in essence, shortly before her death, the deceased was scared of
appellant. Specifically, these witnesses testified as follows:
1) Iva Hopper, Holly's grandmother, testified, the day before
Holly's death, she noticed a bruise below Holly's knee. She
asked Holly how she had acquired the bruise and Holly stated
appellant had kicked her.
2) Lisa Estes, Holly's cousin, testified a week before Holly's
death, Holly told her appellant stated, if she ever left him, he
would kill her and her family.
Appellant offered no evidence at trial.
Did the trial court err by ruling Estes' and Hopper's testimony
was admissible under Rule 803(3), SCRE, the "state of mind"
Appellant argues the trial court erred by admitting Estes' and
Hopper's testimony under the "state of mind" exception to the rule against
hearsay.1 Rule 803(3), SCRE. More particularly, appellant contends the
decedent's state of mind was not a relevant issue and, further, the
decedent's statements do not fall within the "state of mind" exception to
Sloan. In his reply brief and at oral argument, however, appellant
essentially conceded Sloan's testimony was properly admitted and, as a
whole, was non-prejudicial.
the rule against hearsay.
Evidence is relevant, if it tends to "make the existence of any
fact that is of consequence to the determination of the action more
probable or less probable than it would be without the evidence." Rule
401, SCRE. Here, the victim's state of mind - that she was scared of
appellant - was relevant because it -tended to disprove appellant's
contention the shooting was an accident; the victim's fear suggests
appellant may have intended the shooting. United States v. Tokars, 95
F.3d 1520 (11th Cir. 1996)(when relevant to the motive to kill, evidence of
the victim's state of mind is admissible under Rule 803(3), FRE); State v.
Wood, 881 P.2d 1158 (Ariz. 1994)(victim's statements about her fear of
defendant and her desire to end their relationship were relevant to trial
issues of defendant's motive and mental state); State v. Richards, 552
N.W.2d 197 (Minn. 1996)(where defendant raised accident and/or suicide
as a defense to homicide charge, victim's state of mind was relevant);
State v. Crawford, 472 S.E.2d 920 (N.C. 1996)(in homicide trial, victim's
state of mind was relevant to refute defendant's claim of self-defense and
accident); see also State v. Shurn, 866 S.W.2d 447 (Mo. 1993)(victim's
statements of fear are relevant where defendant argues self-defense).
We find, however, that, while the decedent's state of mind was
relevant, Hopper's and Estes' testimony concerning the victim's statements
to them were not admissible under the state of mind exception.2
"'Hearsay' is a statement, other than one made by the
declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to
prove the truth of the matter asserted." Rule 801(c), SCRE. Hearsay is
generally inadmissible. Rule 802, SCRE.
Rule 803, SCRE, provides, in part, as follows:
The following are not excluded by the hearsay rule:
(3) Then existing mental, emotional, or physical condition.
declarations by deceased are not evidence either for or against accused,
unless they come within some of the recognized exceptions to the hearsay
A statement of the declarant's then existing state of mind,
emotion, sensation, or physical condition (such as intent, plan,
motive, design, mental feeling, pain, and bodily health), but not
including a statement of memory or belief to prove the fact
remembered or believed unless it relates to the execution,
revocation, identification, or terms of declarant's will.
Rule 803(3), SCRE, is identical to its counterpart in the
Federal Rules of Evidence. Under the Federal Rules of Evidence, "Rule
803(3) provides an exception for statements of present state of mind,
emotion or physical condition." S. Saltzburg, M. Martin, D. Capra, Federal
Rules of Evidence Manual, p.1656 (1998). These statements are
considered trustworthy because "they are based on unique perception; that
is, the declarant has a unique perspective into his own feelings and
emotions." Id. Statements may either directly or circumstantially show
the declarant's state of mind, emotion, or physical condition. M. Graham,
Handbook of Federal Evidence (1996).
Like Rule 803(3), FRE, Rule 803(3), SCRE, "does not permit a
statement of memory or belief to prove the fact remembered," unless
relating to the declarant's will. Id The purpose of this exclusion is "to
avoid the virtual destruction of the hearsay rule which would otherwise
result from allowing state of mind, provable by a hearsay statement, to
serve as a basis for an inference of the happening of the event which
produced the state of mind.3 Advisory Committee Note to Rule 803(3),
FRE. Consequently, while the present state of the declarant's mind is
admissible as an exception to hearsay, the reason for the declarant's state
of mind is not. United States v. Cohen, 631 F.2d 1223, 1225 (5th Cir.
1980)("But the state-of-mind exception does not permit the witness to
relate any of the declarant's statements as to why he held the particular
United States, 290 U.S. 96, 54 S.Ct. 22, 78 L.Ed. 196 (1933), where the
Court held the ill victim's statement to her nurse that she had taken her
husband's whiskey before collapsing and he had poisoned her was
inadmissible. The Court noted the statement "spoke to a past act, and
more than that, to an act by some one not the speaker." Id. U.S. at 106,
S.Ct. at 26, L.Ed. at 202. The Court distinguished the victim's statement
from those "[d]eclarations of intention, casting light upon the future . . .". Id.
state of mind, or what he might have believed that would have induced
the state of mind. If the reservation in the text of the rule is to have any
effect, it must be understood to narrowly limit those admissible statements
to declarations of condition - 'I'm scared'- and not belief - 'I'm scared
because [someone] threatened me'.").
Hopper's and Estes' testimony concerning statements the
deceased made to them were improperly admitted under Rule 803(3),
SCRE. While their testimony presents circumstantial evidence of the
decedent's fear of appellant and concern for her safety, the testimony
improperly reveals the reason for her state of mind (i.e., that appellant
had kicked and threatened to kill her). United States v. Joe, 8 F.3d 1488
(10th Cir. 1993)(under Rule 803(3), FRE, witness could testify declarant
stated she was "afraid sometimes," but not because she thought her
husband was going to kill her); State v. Wood, supra (witness' testimony
'[declarant] told me that she did not want to stay at the apartment
because [defendant] had threatened her life" was inadmissible under Rule
803(3), Ariz.R.Evid.); State v. Bell, 950 S.W.2d 482 (Mo. 1997)(testimony
that decedent had stated defendant had assaulted her on prior occasions
was inadmissible hearsay); State v. Reynolds, 687 N.E.2d 1358 (Ohio
1998)(declarant's statements that she was fearful or concerned are
admissible but reasons for emotions are not admissible). Accordingly, the
trial judge erred in admitting Hopper's and Estes' testimony.4
admissible under Rule 803(l), SCRE, present sense impression, and Rule
803(2), SCRE, excited utterance. Under Rule 803(l), SCRE, a statement
describing or, explaining an event or condition is admissible if "made while
the declarant was perceiving the event or condition, or immediately
thereafter." Under Rule 803(2), SCRE, "a statement relating to a startling
event or condition made while the declarant was under the stress of
excitement caused by the event or condition" is admissible. The deceased's
statements to Hopper and Estes were neither a present sense impression
nor an excited utterance. There was no indication as when appellant had
kicked or threatened the deceased so as to determine the timing of the
events in relation to her statements to Hopper and Estes. See State v.
Hill, 331 S.C. 94, 501 S.E.2d 122 (1998)(where it was unknown whether
declarant's statement was made under the stress of excitement caused by
the event, the statement was not admissible as excited utterance); State v.
Burroughs, 328 S.C. 489, 492 S.E.2d 408 (Ct. App. 1997)(victim's
In light of the entire record and, because the incompetent
testimony offered by Hopper and Estes directly refutes appellant's accident
defense, we conclude the admission of their testimony was not harmless
beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, appellant's conviction and
sentence are hereby reversed.
FINNEY, C.J., TOAL, MOORE, and WALLER, JJ., concur.
inadmissible as present sense impression).