Can a 911 call get around the Hearsay Rule? The answer is, “yes” when it is an excited utterance. In 2010, a mother fell asleep on her couch. Shortly before 3:00 a.m., she woke up when a man struck her in the head with a metal bar. The man was wearing a dark outfit, with a black bandana across his face. When she pulled down the man’s bandana, she recognized the man as Teague and yelled out his name. As Teague continued to beat her with the metal bar, he ordered her to give him her purse. The victim’s daughter came downstairs and recognized Teague from his voice and the portion of his face that was visible. The daughter went to her mother who was on the couch bleeding, but Teague followed and struck her. Teague then struck the mother repeatedly and demanded her purse. The daughter gave Teague the purse. After Teague ran out of the back door, the daughter assisted her mother out to the porch, and then ran over to a neighbor’s house. The daughter was “hysterical” and screamed to the neighbor to call 911 and tell the police that “somebody’s broke into the house and beat mom up.” On the 911 call, the neighbor described how she had run to her door, and relayed statements that her ex-boyfriend was the perpetrator and how her mother had been beaten. On October 15, 2010, the State charged Teague with burglary; robbery; and aggravated battery. After a 4 day trial, the jury found him guilty of all counts. At sentencing, the trial court sentenced him to over 38 years in prison.
On appeal, Teague claimed the trial court improperly admitted the 911 recording. Hearsay is an out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted and is inadmissible unless it falls under a hearsay exception. If a statement involves hearsay within hearsay, also known as multiple hearsay or double hearsay, the statement may still be admitted if “each layer of hearsay” qualifies “under an exception to the hearsay rule[.]” An exception is “excited utterances” which are “statements relating to a startling event or condition made while the declarant was under the stress of excitement caused by the event or condition” and is not excluded by the hearsay rule. To meet the excited utterance exception, three elements must be present: (1) a “startling event or condition” has occurred; (2) the declarant made a statement while under the stress or excitement caused by the event or condition; and (3) the statement was related to the event or condition. This test is not “mechanical” and admissibility turns on whether the statement was inherently reliable because the witness was under the stress of the event and unlikely to make deliberate falsifications. The lapse of time is not dispositive, but if a statement is made long after a startling event, it is usually “less likely to be an excited utterance. The heart of the inquiry is whether the declarant was incapable of thoughtful reflection.
Here, a bloodied victim came to her neighbor’s house in the middle of the night distraught and screaming that her mother had been beaten up. The neighbor immediately called 911 and answered the operator’s questions. An excited utterance can be made in response to a question so long as the statement is unrehearsed and is made under the stress of excitement from the event. During the 911 call, daughter could be heard crying, and the neighbor told the operator that she was going to remain at her own house, because she was not certain whether the attacker was. Throughout the conversation, the neighbor had no time to reflect before making her statements. For all of these reasons, we conclude that daughter’s arrival at her home was a startling event and that the neighbor made her statements regarding the incident to the 911 operator while she was under the stress of this event. Thus, the answers to the 911 operator were admissible as excited utterances. Teague v. State, 978 N.E.2d 1183