To be admissible under the state of mind exception to the hearsay rule, the declarant’s state of mind must be in issue

Law Lessons from STATE OF NEW JERSEY v. MELANIE McGUIRE, __ N.J. Super. __ (App. Div. 2011), A-6576-06T4, March 16, 2011:

Under N.J.R.E. 803(c)(3), an out-of-court statement is admissible if it was “made in good faith of the declarant’s then existing state of mind, emotion, sensation or physical condition (such as intent, plan, motive, design, mental feeling, pain, or bodily health).” “Simply stated, the ‘state of mind’ exception to the hearsay rule allows admission of extrajudicial statements to show the state of mind of the declarant when it is at issue in a case.” State v. Benedetto, 120 N.J. 250, 255-56 (1990). “Particularly where the declarant is deceased, the rule is rooted in necessity and justified upon the basis that the circumstances provide a rational substitute for the benefit of cross-examination.” State v. Downey, 206 N.J. Super. 382, 390 (App. Div. 1986).

Many years ago in State v. Thornton, 38 N.J. 380 (1962), cert. denied, 374 U.S. 816, 83 S. Ct. 1710, 10 L. Ed. 2d 1039 (1963), our Supreme Court stated:

When a person’s engagement in a course of conduct or an act . . . is relevant to the resolution of a controversy over an occurrence which becomes the subject of subsequent litigation . . . declarations of the person of his present intention or plan to do so, are competent, substantive, and original evidence of his probable engagement in the course of conduct or act.

[Id. at 389.]

Recently in State v. McLaughlin, ___ N.J. ___, ___ (2011), the Court stated that “to be admissible under the state of mind exception to the hearsay rule, the declarant’s state of mind must be ‘in issue.'” (Slip op. at 28) (quoting State v. Boratto, 154 N.J. Super. 386, 394 (App. Div. 1977), aff’d in part, rev’d in part, 80 N.J. 506 (1979)).

When recommending adoption of this so-called Hillmon doctrine, see Mut. Life Ins. Co. v. Hillmon, 145 U.S. 285, 294-300, 12 S. Ct. 909, 912-14, 36 L. Ed. 706, 710-12 (1892), the drafters of N.J.R.E. 803(c)(3) retained in the rule a “good faith” requirement to provide discretion to trial courts to exclude out-of-court statements that are unreliable. See Biunno, Current N.J. Rules of Evidence, 1991 Supreme Court Committee Comment on N.J.R.E. 803(c)(3) (2008) at 773.

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