Soles v. State
97 Fla. 61, 119 So. 791 (1929)

  • Long, Robinson and Jackson were looking for whisky.  They heard a gunshot, jumped in Robinsons’ car and sped off.  Someone behind the car shot Long in the back of the head as they left. Long died soon afterwards.
  • Soles was arrested on suspicion of murdering Long.
  • At trial, Long’s father testified that 20 minutes after he was shot, Long told him that Soles was the person who shot him.  Long’s sister testified that she heard Long tell his father Soles shot him.
    • Soles objected to this testimony on the grounds that it was hearsay.
    • Long argued that since it was a dying declaration, it was admissible as an exception to hearsay.
      • Soles argued that Long didn’t know he was going to die, but the Trial Judge found that he did know.
    • The Trial Judge allowed the testimony to be admitted.
  • Soles attempted to instruct the jury that a dying declaration is only admissible if the declarant is aware of their impending death.  But the Trial Judge did not give that instruction to the jury.
  • The Trial Court found Soles guilty of manslaughter.  He appealed.
  • The Florida Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The Florida Supreme Court found that under the common law, the testimony was admissible.
    • The Court further found that once the evidence had properly been admitted, it was for the jury to decide how much weight it should be given.  You can’t give the jury instructions to decide whether the testimony is really admissible or not.
      • “The court determines the admissibility, and the jury the credibility of confessions.”
      • Soles was free to argue that Long’s statement shouldn’t have been given much weight (especially since it is hard to identify someone who shoots you in the back of the head.)  Soles could also have argued that Long did not have personal knowledge of who shot him and therefore his declaration was inadmissible.
  • This case as decided under the common law.  Today, it would be governed by FRE 804(b)(2), and the judge’s ruling would be based on the preponderance of the evidence, as stated in FRE 104(a).