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People v. Hopson

Filed 7/3/17 IN THE SUPREME COURT OF CALIFORNIA THE PEOPLE, ) ) Plaintiff and Respondent, ) ) S228193 v. ) ) Ct.App. 4/1 D066684 RUTHETTA LOIS HOPSON, ) ) Riverside County Defendant and Appellant. ) Super. Ct. No. RIF1105594 ____________________________________) Defendant Ruthetta Lois Hopson was tried on charges that she, along with her boyfriend, Julius Thomas, was responsible for the 2011 murder of her housemate, Laverna Brown. In her trial testimony, defendant pinned the blame on Thomas, who had since died. In rebuttal, the prosecution introduced a confession Thomas had given to detectives following his arrest, in which he pinned much of the blame on defendant. Defendant argues that the admission of Thomas‘s confession violated her right under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution to confront the witnesses against her. The Court of Appeal rejected the argument, concluding that the claim fails because Thomas‘s confession was presented not to establish the truth of his account, but instead to undermine defendant‘s competing account of their joint crime. We conclude, contrary to the Court of Appeal, that the jury was in fact asked to consider Thomas‘s confession for its truth and that the admission of the confession thus violated defendant‘s Sixth Amendment right to confront her accusers. We reverse the judgment of the Court of Appeal and remand for further SEE DISSENTING OPINION proceedings to determine whether the error was prejudicial in light of other evidence in the case and whether defendant therefore must be given a new trial. I. Defendant and the victim, Brown, both rented rooms in a house in Riverside. Brown planned to fly to Georgia early on October 28, 2011, but she never took the flight. The next day, the police located Brown‘s minivan in the parking lot of an automobile auction house. Her body and suitcase were found inside. Defendant and Thomas were arrested and charged with Brown‘s murder. Thomas initially denied involvement, but, three days after his arrest, he gave a confession to detectives that implicated himself and defendant. Thomas also showed the police where he had disposed of items he had used during the crime, which enabled the police to recover one of the murder weapons. Roughly six weeks later, Thomas committed suicide in jail. At defendant‘s trial, the content of Thomas‘s confession to police was presented to the jury. Because the course of events that led to this result was somewhat circuitous — as the Court of Appeal noted, ―evidentiary rules were very loosely applied at this trial and few restrictions were observed by either side, or by the trial court‖ — we describe this history at some length. Before trial, the prosecution asked the court to rule on the admissibility of various pieces of evidence, including Thomas‘s confession to police. The defense objected to the admission of Thomas‘s confession, arguing that admitting the confession would violate defendant‘s Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against her. The prosecutor agreed he could not introduce Thomas‘s confession, but advised the trial court that …
Original document
Source: California Supreme Court