Washington Appellate Court Examines Excited Utterance Standard

The Washington Court of Appeals has reviewed a conviction for rape of a child in the third degree after the trial judge erroneously admitted hearsay evidence. The court analyzed the excited utterance exception to the rule against hearsay. It emphasized that being “upset” or even “extremely emotional” is not enough to invoke this hearsay exception.

In State v. Crowell, the defendant was accused of raping a teenage girl in Stevenson, Washington. The girl made her allegations a week after the alleged incident occurred, and she gave a recorded interview with a police detective the following day. A Skamania Superior Court judge admitted the recording during trial under the excited utterance hearsay exception. Crowell was later convicted. He appealed, arguing that the recorded interview was inadmissible hearsay.

Hearsay is an out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted. Because the statement was not made in court, it is considered unreliable and inadmissible, unless an exception to the rule against hearsay applies.

One such exception is for “excited utterances.” An excited utterance is a statement in response to a startling event, made while under the stress of the excitement caused by the event. An excited utterance is considered reliable because the speaker is giving an instant reaction and thus has no opportunity to come up with a lie.

Here, there was testimony that the girl was “pretty tense” and “extremely emotional” during the interview, but the court found this was insufficient to constitute an excited utterance. The passage of a week between the alleged rape and the interview did not by itself disqualify the interview statement as an excited utterance. The court found it significant, though, that there was no evidence that the girl was under stress caused by the alleged rape throughout the entire week.

The court noted that the girl “was understandably upset… but simply being upset is not enough to satisfy the excited utterance exception.” The court thus found the trial judge erred in admitting the interview recording under the excited utterance exception. However, the court found it was a harmless error because “there was not a reasonable probability that the admission of the interview recording materially affected the outcome of the trial.” It therefore affirmed the child rape conviction.