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People v. Vanderpauye.

2023 CO 42. No. 21SC771. Self-Serving Hearsay—Excited Utterance Hearsay Exception—CRE 803(2)—CRE 403—Harmless Error.

June 20, 2023

The Supreme Court clarified that Colorado law has no per se rule excluding a self-serving hearsay statement by a criminal defendant. Instead, the Court held that, like any other hearsay statement, a defendant’s self-serving hearsay statement may be admissible if it satisfies a hearsay-rule exception in the Colorado Rules of Evidence.

Still, the self-serving nature of a defendant’s hearsay statement, while not grounds for automatic exclusion, may be relevant in some cases to the determination of whether the statement fits within the scope of a hearsay exception in CRE 803. Of particular interest here, under the excited utterance exception in CRE 803(2), the self-serving nature of a defendant’s hearsay statement may be probative of whether the statement was a spontaneous reaction, rendering it potentially admissible, or the result of reflective thought, rendering it inadmissible.

Regardless of whether the self-serving nature of a defendant’s hearsay statement affects the statement’s admissibility under the particular hearsay exception in play, the trial court should consider that aspect of the statement in exercising its discretion pursuant to CRE 403.

Here, the district court incorrectly determined that the self-serving nature of Vanderpauye’s hearsay statement rendered the statement automatically inadmissible. Further, the district court erred in alternatively ruling that the excluded statement did not meet the excited utterance exception to the hearsay rule under CRE 803(2).

The Court concluded that Vanderpauye’s statement, though self-serving, was admissible under the excited utterance exception. Further, the Court ruled that the statement satisfied the CRE 403 balancing test. Because the district court’s error in excluding the statement was not harmless, the Court affirmed the court of appeals judgment reversing the conviction and remanding for a new trial.

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