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Nothing But The Truth

Updated: Dec 13, 2018

Sometimes the facts of a case can be bland and straightforward. Other times they can be a little more captivating. The case of State v. White is the latter:

In this ABHAN case, the defendant was charged with stabbing the victim in the throat. He was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison and has appealed for several reasons. The first issue is that the defendant was not allowed to charge the jury with self-defense. The second issue is that the defendant was not allowed to use a statement made by the victim because of hearsay.


During the trial, the defendant went back and forth as to whether he intentionally or unintentionally stabbed the victim. The trial court held that “accident and self-defense pretty well can't co-exist and asked White which he would like to pursue. The trial court subsequently denied White's request to charge self-defense.” State v. White, No. 2016-000616, 2018 WL 5020073, at *4 (S.C. Ct. App. Oct. 17, 2018) (quotations omitted).

The court of appeals held that this was error because the two are not mutually exclusive and that the defendant had presented enough evidence to receive a charge of self-defense. White, No. 2016-000616, 2018 WL 5020073, at *4 ("While it is true accident and self-defense ‘are often mutually exclusive,’ a trial court should charge both when there is evidence in the record to support both charges.”); Id. (“Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to White, we find there was some evidence to support each element of self-defense.”).


The second issue that the defendant appealed was the exclusion of a statement based on hearsay. While testifying, the defendant attempted to tell the conversation that he and the victim had prior to the assault. The victim told the defendant that he had weapons stored inside of his moped. The trial court held that this was inadmissible hearsay. The court of appeals disagreed.

We find the statement was not introduced to prove the truth of the matter asserted, i.e. that Johnson actually had a gun and knife on his moped. Instead, White offered the statement to show he believed Johnson had weapons on his moped.
Id. at 3.

This is a key part of hearsay that can be easily overlooked. Remember the general purpose of the hearsay rule is to keep out unreliable statements where we can’t ask the speaker why they said what they said and then judge them for ourselves. This general purpose isn’t necessary if we aren’t trying to prove the truth of the statement, but rather, we are just attempting to see how someone reacted to the statement.


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