New Maryland Hearsay Appellate Opinion

A new unreported case caught my eye, Mock v. Patterson, that involved a topic near and dear to my heart: collecting baseball cards.  There are some interesting hearsay issues here in this conversation case that are worth looking at more closely.  The entire appeal focused on what the defendant claimed was hearsay that should not have come into evidence.

Facts of Mock v. Patterson

The defendant faced allegations of taking possession of a portion of a renowned baseball card collector’s collection. Following the collector’s passing, a complaint was filed by the individual serving as the executor of the collector’s estate. The complaint accused the defendant and another party of taking custody of the baseball cards and failing to return them. The central issue in this case revolved around whether the defendant had returned the cards before the collector’s demise.

Throughout the trial, witnesses, including the deceased collector’s offspring and a sports collectibles dealer, provided testimony. They asserted that the defendant had taken charge of several boxes of baseball cards that belonged to the collector for safekeeping, but these cards were never returned. The defendant claimed to have returned the cards within 24 hours of receiving them. The jury did not buy it. It found the defendant liable for the conversion of the cards and awarded damages to the estate of $50,000 plus prejudgment interest (which was another $11,000 or so).

On appeal, the defendant argued that the circuit court made reversible errors by allowing witnesses to testify about hearsay statements made by the collector. The appellate court conducted a detailed review of each of the defendant’s objections, analyzing the admissibility and potential impact of the hearsay statements.

Hearsay Analysis

The appellate court explained what many of you learned on the first day of evidence calls.  Hearsay refers to a statement, other than one made by the person testifying in court, presented as evidence to establish the truth of the matter stated.

Of course,  hearsay is not admissible unless it falls within an exception to the hearsay rule. The court emphasized that when inadmissible hearsay evidence tends to prove the same point as other evidence presented during the trial, any error in its admission is likely to be considered harmless.

The defendant raised objections to several statements made by the witnesses, asserting that they constituted hearsay and should not have been admitted.

The court carefully examined each instance raised by the defendant:

  • In one instance, a witness testified about how the collector became acquainted with the defendant. Although this testimony contained hearsay, the defendant’s own testimony essentially confirmed the witness’s account of events. Consequently, any error in admitting this testimony was deemed harmless. This is often the case with hearsay that should not come into evidence. The appellate court is not going to make a technical ruling on evidence that was hardly essential to the case.
  • The defendant also objected to statements made by another witness regarding the collector’s interactions with the other party involved in the case. The court determined that these statements fell under the party-opponent exception to the hearsay rule since they were statements made by the defendant.  What a party says is always fair game.  Furthermore, the witness’s testimony about the collector’s belief in the other party’s ownership of a sports store did not prejudice the defendant because the other party was no longer a party to the case anyway.
  • The defendant further objected to testimony about the collector occasionally giving the defendant small amounts of cash. While this testimony could be perceived as hearsay, it was cumulative and not directly related to the alleged conversion of the baseball cards. Therefore, again, any error in admitting this testimony was considered harmless.
  • The court also scrutinized the testimony of witnesses regarding their knowledge of the cards and their efforts to retrieve them. While some of their statements could be classified as hearsay, their testimony aligned with the defendant’s admission that they had the cards in their possession. Consequently, any error in admitting these statements was deemed, once again, harmless.
  • Finally, the court addressed the testimony of another witness, who discussed their conversations with the collector and the defendant concerning the cards. The defendant did not object to this testimony, and the court ruled that any objection would not have been preserved for review. This is a key takeaway from this case.  You have to object if you want to preserve your objection for the record.  Additionally, the statements made by this witness were admissible as statements by a party-opponent, and the defendant’s own testimony corroborated the statements made by this witness.

Judgement Affirmed

In summary, the appellate court affirmed the circuit court’s judgment, finding that the circuit court had not committed reversible errors in admitting hearsay evidence. The court concluded that any errors in admitting the hearsay statements were harmless, as these statements were either redundant or supported by the defendant’s own testimony.

More on Hearsay Law in Maryland

While we are at the well, let’s talk for a second about the most common hearsay exceptions in Maryland

  • Statements Against Interest: Statements that are against the declarant’s interest, such as admissions of guilt, may be admissible.
  • Excited Utterances: Statements made while a person is under the influence of excitement or shock from a startling event may be admissible.
  • Business Records: Records made in the regular course of business are generally admissible.
  • Statements for Medical Diagnosis or Treatment: Statements made to a medical professional for the purpose of diagnosis or treatment are often admissible.
  • Dying Declarations: Statements made by a person who believes they are about to die and concerning the cause or circumstances of their impending death may be admissible.