Does Defecating Qualify as an “Excited Utterance”?

The lawyer who sent in this opinion wrote that it will “make you pee in your pants laughing.” Maybe he was just caught up in the spirit of the opinion, which begins:

This case decides the heretofore undecided question of whether the act of defecating in one’s pants upon being informed of a pending criminal charge is a relevant fact for the jury.

That’s a heckuva way to get your reading audience’s attention. Here’s what happened:

The prosecutor elicited testimony from the arresting officer that, upon being informed he was under arrest for sexual child assault, the defendant defecated in his pants (although he denied doing so at trial). Defense counsel objected on relevancy grounds and the judge sustained the objection. The judge told the jury to disregard the comment. Oh yeah, I’m sure the jurors were able to just completely forget that little tidbit.

The defendant appealed, asserting a mistrial should have been granted. On appeal, the prosecutor argued that the defendant’s unseemly accident was admissible as an “excited utterance” under the rules of evidence.

“Excited utterance” is an exception to the rule the bars the introduction of hearsay testimony. Hearsay–that is, statements made outside of court–are, subject to many exceptions, barred because they are deemed untrustworthy. The basis for admitting an excited utterance into evidence is the belief that statements made under shock or surprise are likely to be trustworthy.

Judge Hardberger, writing for the Texas Court of Appeals, did an admirable job of fairly identifying the conflicting inferences that could be drawn from the alleged act by the defendant. After rejecting defendant’s argument that the act had no relevance, he wrote:

On the other hand, defecation in one’s pants upon arrest does not necessarily indicate guilt. Such an act could be evidence of the innocence of a man accused of a heinous crime he didn’t do … Granted, it could also be the act of a guilty person being found out. Or it could simply be the act of a man sick to his stomach.

The court determined that the trial judge’s instruction to the jury to disregard the testimony cured any possible error.

Marles v. State, 919 S.W.2d 669, 670–71 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996). Thanks to David Keller.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

  

  

  


Andrew Jay McClurg is a law professor whose teaching and research interests include tort law, products liability, legal education, privacy law and firearms policy. He holds the Herbert Herff Chair of Excellence in Law at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.
Learn more...

Funny Law School Stories
For all its terror and tedium, law school can be a hilarious place. Everyone has a funny law school story. What’s your story?

Strange Judicial Opinions
Large collection of oddball and off-the-wall judicial opinions and orders.

Product Warning Labels
A variety of warning labels, some good, some silly and some just really odd. If you come encounter a funny or interesting product warning label, please send it along.

Tortland
Tortman! Andrew J McClurg
Tortland collects interesting tort cases, warning labels, and photos of potential torts. Raise risk awareness. Play "Spot the Tort."

Weird Patents
Think it’s really hard to get a patent? Think again.

Legal Oddities
From the simply curious to the downright bizarre, a collection of amusing law-related artifacts.

Spot the Tort
Have fun and make the world a safer place. Send in pictures of dangerous conditions you stumble upon (figuratively only, we hope) out there in Tortland.

Legal Education
Collecting any and all amusing tidbits related to legal education.

Harmless Error
McClurg's twisted legal humor column ran for more than four years in the American Bar Association Journal.