Tome v. United States
513 U.S. 150 (1995)

  • Tome and his wife were divorced.  Tome had primary custody of their daughter.  Tome’s ex-wife attempted to get primary custody, but the Court refused her request.
  • Tome’s ex-wife contacted the police alleging that Tome was sexually abusing their daughter.
    • Tome argued that the allegations were false and were made by his ex-wife so she could get custody.
  • At Trial, the prosecution put the 6 year old daughter on the witness stand, but she was reluctant to answer the questions.
  • The prosecution then produced six witnesses who testified about what the daughter had told them out of court.
    • Traditionally, out of court statements are inadmissible on the grounds they are hearsay.
    • However, FRE 801(d)(1) gives an exception that allows prior statements made by a witness to be used under certain circumstances.
      •  Since the witness is testifying, the opposing counsel has the opportunity to cross examine them about the statements, therefore avoiding the major problem with hearsay evidence.
      • In this case, exception FRE 801(d)(1)(B), which allows for prior statements to be used to rebut the accusation that the declarant is fabricating their testimony.
    • Tome objected on the ground that the statements by his daughter were made after the alleged motive to fabricate arose.
  • The Trial Court found Tome guilty of abusing his daughter.  He appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.  Tome appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court overturned the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court found that the traditional common law rule (prior to the FRE) was that prior statements introduced to rebut a charge of fabrication or improper influence were admissible if the statement had been made before the alleged fabrication came into being, but inadmissible afterwards.
      • Basically, Tome’s ex-wife had a motive to encourage her daughter to lie after she lost the custody hearing.  If the daughter’s statements had been made prior to that, they would be admissible because they could be presumed to be true, but after the custody hearing, the daughter statements would be suspect.
  • In a dissent, it was argued that this case wasn’t about hearsay at all, but instead was about relevance.  Basically, statements made after the motive to fabricate may not be relevant to rebutting an allegation of fabrication.  However, it isn’t an issue that is covered by the hearsay rules (FRE 801-804), but instead should be governed by the relevancy rules (FRE 401-415).
    • Basically, the Trial Judge should determine if this sort of evidence is admissible on the basis of relevance, not on the basis of whether they meet this specific hearsay exception.