Monday, February 5, 2024

The NY Court of Appeals' Ludwig Decision on Prior Consistent Statements

A Hearsay Exception that Challenges the Rights of the Accused
By William J. Matthews
Will Matthews is a third-year student at Albany Law School. Prior to attending law school, he worked for Via Aquarium as an Aquarist and worked for Ducks Unlimited as a GIS Analyst Intern. He graduated from Paul Smith’s College with a degree in Wildlife Science.
Recently, Will organized Place, Space, & Justice in a Climate Migration World, the Albany Law Review Spring 2024 Symposium.
Post-graduation, Will will be working as a Staff Attorney at the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

In New York, a complainant’s prior consistent statements are generally inadmissible in court as hearsay, unless an exception applies. In People v. Ludwig, the New York Court of Appeals upheld the admission of the prior consistent statements of a child in a child sexual abuse trial. The Court held that the testimony fell within the existing exception for prior consistent statements offered to complete the narrative of events leading to the investigation and arrest of the defendant.

The Court’s majority opinion, authored by Judge Susan Read, was joined by Judges Victoria Graffeo, Eugene Pigott, and Sheila Abdus-Salaam. The Court's ruling was questioned in a separate concurrence by Judge Robert Smith, who failed to see why the investigative process required explaining. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, joined by Judge Jenny Rivera, echoed Judge Smith’s concerns in a dissenting opinion. The dissenters added that prior applications of the “completing the narrative” exception were accompanied by effective limiting instructions, ensuring that jurors did not consider the evidence for the truth of the matter asserted.

People v. Ludwig is a challenging case that forces readers to weigh the importance of the rights of the accused with the natural human desire to protect the most vulnerable among us. This paper uses the three distinct opinions written in Ludwig as a backdrop for a larger conversation about the Court of Appeals’ willingness to stretch the applicability of exceptions to the general rule against the admissibility of prior consistent statements when the complainant is the victim of sexual assault or abuse, particularly children.

Is it appropriate to erode the rights of the accused when the alleged victim is a sexually abused child? Or should the rights of the accused be treated with absolute reverence, even when it prevents a child sex victim from being able to fully tell their story in court?
To read the paper, open HERE.