Statement to DYFS Worker Inadmissible under Crawford – State v. Buda

Today’s Appellate Division holding in State v. Buda represents a critical step in the development of New Jersey’s Confrontation Clause jurisprudence following the United States Supreme Court’s holdings in Crawford v. Washington, 541 US 36 (2004) and Davis v. Washington, 126 S. Ct. 2266 (2006).

In Buda, an investigator from DYFS reported to a hospital emergency room in response to a call related to possible child abuse. During the investigator’s interview of the child, the child made several critical statements that tended to incriminate the defendant. The child did not testify at trial and was never subject to cross-examination. The trial court admitted the child’s hearsay statements as an excited utterance under NJRE 803(c)(2).

On appeal, the defendant contended that regardless of the hearsay exception under which the child’s statements were admitted into evidence, the statements should have been excluded under the Confrontation Clause.

The Appellate Division reversed the conviction and held that under the facts of this case, the child’s statement to the DYFS investigator was elicited, at least in part, for the purpose of gathering evidence for a criminal prosecution.

This case constitutes an expansion of Crawford in the sense that the hearsay statements were made to a person who was not a police officer. This expansion is part of a general trend in the reported case law around the country in child abuse cases. The Appellate Division panel also notes its agreement with the rules established in State in the Interest of J.A., 385 N.J. Super. 544 (App. Div. 2006) for determining when a hearsay statement is testimonial within the meaning of Crawford.

Please note the excellent concurring opinion by Judge Sabatino which provides a concise overview of Crawford and the enormous impact it has had on criminal trial practice.

Download a copy of State v. Buda.

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