Adkins v. Brett
184 Cal 252, 193 P. 251 (1920)

  • Adkins and his wife were having marital troubles.  Eventually, Adkin’s wife left him for Brett.
  • Adkins sued Brett for damages for the ‘alienation’ of his wife.
    • Apparently, back in the 1920s it was a tort to seduce someone’s wife.
  • In Court, both Brett and Adkins’ wife denied that they had slept together.
  • Adkins attempted to introduce the testimony of Tucker, who claimed that Brett told him that he had had ‘criminal intercourse’ with Adkins’ wife the day after the supposed incident.
    • Brett objected on the grounds that the out-of-court statement was hearsay.
    • Adkins argued that under the common-law, statements made in the present state of mind are admissible as an exception to hearsay.
  • In addition, Adkins testified that his wife had told him that she was sweet on Brett, and that he had given her flowers and taken her for a ride in his fancy automobile.
    • Brett objected on the same grounds.
  • The Trial Judge allowed the testimony to come into evidence.
  • The Trial Court found for Adkins.  Brett appealed.
  • The California Supreme Court reversed.
    • The California Supreme Court looked to the common law and found that there is an exception to hearsay for statements that represent “the intention, feelings or other mental state of a certain person at a particular time, including his bodily feelings,” because such a statement is “indicative of his then mental state.”
      • Aka the present state of mind exception.
    • However, the Court found that Adkins’ wife’s statements went beyond her feelings, and contained factual matters (such as the info about the flowers and the automobile).
      • The facts of the wife’s statements are not admissible under the present state of mind exception, and were very prejudicial towards Brett.
      • Therefore, a jury instruction should have been issued that the wife’s statements were only admissible to show the wife’s feelings at the time she made the statements, not to prove that Brett had actually bought her flowers and taken her for a ride in his horseless carriage.
        • Since such a jury instruction was not issued, the jury was tainted and the verdict should be thrown out.
  • This case was decided under the common law.  Today, it would be governed by FRE 803(3).  In addition, FRE 105 covers the limiting instructions that need to be made to the jury when this sort of statement is admitted.