Johnson v. Lutz
253 N.Y. 124, 170 N.E. 517 (1930)

  • Johnson was killed when his motorcycle ran into Lutz’ truck.  Johnson’s heirs sued Lutz for wrongful death.
  • At trial there was a disagreement about who was at fault for the accident.
  • Johnson’s heirs attempted to introduce a police report describing the accident.
    • Lutz’ objected on the grounds that the out-of-court report was hearsay.
    • Johnson’s relatives argued that it was admissible as an exception to hearsay because it was a business record, as defined by New York’s Civil Practice Act.
  • The Trial Judge refused to admit the police report.
  • The Trial Court found for Lutz.  Johnson appealed.
  • The New York Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The New York Supreme Court looked to the State’s Civil Practice Act (this case took place before the FRE), and found that it only covered business transactions.  Police records are not business transactions and were not intended to be covered under the rule.
  • Basically, the information is only admissible if the person had a duty to report the information accurately.  In this case, the witness had no duty to tell the truth, so their recorded statement is of unknown reliability.
    • If on the other hand, the police report contained a recording of what the police officer personally saw, that report would be a good reliability because the officer has a duty to be accurate.
  • This case was decided before the FRE was implemented.  Today it would be covered by FRE 803(6).