Suicide is a leading cause of death in the twenty-first century. Individuals who take their own lives occasionally leave behind suicide notes. Although rare, these suicide notes are sometimes offered into evidence under the federal residual exception, an exception to the evidentiary rule against hearsay. A court must then decide whether a suicide note is admissible under this exception. In 2019, changes to the federal residual exception went into effect. To be admissible under the new standard, a hearsay statement must be trustworthy and possess probative value. Additionally, the offering party must give notice to the opposing party of its intention to offer the statement into evidence before or during a trial hearing. There is currently no case law analyzing the admissibility of a suicide note under this exception since the 2019 amendment. Precedent indicates that most courts conduct only a cursory analysis before deeming a suicide note to be inadmissible for lacking sufficient guarantees of trustworthiness, the first requirement of the residual exception. The judges in these courts, however, fail to consider psychological research and additional case law, wherein courts in detail review the trustworthiness of suicide notes under the dying declaration exception. These both offer beneficial insight about suicide notes and their trustworthiness. The precedent of cursory analysis is problematic because suicide notes have the potential to influence the outcome of criminal cases, exculpating or inculpating defendants. This Note argues for meaningful admissibility analyses via a three-part balancing test that incorporates psychological research and case law to assess more accurately the trustworthiness of a suicide note under the residual exception.
Jana J. Haikal, Suicide in the Evidentiary Spotlight: An Analysis of the Trustworthiness of Suicide Notes Under the Federal Residual Exception, 62 B.C. L. Rev. 235 (2021), https://lawdigitalcommons.bc.edu/bclr/vol62/iss1/6