United States v. Pheaster
544 F.2d 353 (1976)

  • Adell was kidnapped.  The kidnappers contacted his father to arrange a ransom, but numerous problems occurred and no deal could be reached.  After writing 10 letters, the kidnappers ceased contact with the father.
  • The FBI arrested Pheaster, and Incisco in connection with the kidnapping.
  • At trial, the prosecution attempted to introduce evidence by both Adell’s girlfriend and another friend that Adell repeatedly said that he was going to meet Incisco to pick up a free pound of marijuana from Angelo just prior to his disappearance.
    • Incisco objected on the grounds that the out-of-court statement was hearsay.
    • The prosecution argued that the statement was still admissible as an exception to hearsay because it was only being used to establish the state of mind of Adell.
      • The defendants had argued that Adell hadn’t been kidnapped at all and was faking the kidnapping to extort money from his father.  Adell’s statement to his friends could rebut that argument.
      • Incisco argued that even if that was a winning argument, they should have redacted his name, since the statement was prejudicial because it specifically identified Incisco.
        • They could have just told the jury that Adell said he was going to meet ‘someone’.  That would still show Adell’s state of mind, without being prejudicial to Incisco.
    • The prosecution also invoked the “Hillman Doctrine” to argue that the statement could indeed be used to prove that Adell met Incisco.
      • See Mutual Life Ins. Co. v. Hillmon (145 U.S. 285 (1892)).
  • The Trial Judge allowed the testimony to be admitted, but he instructed the jury that it could only be used to determine the state of mind of Adell, and not used to prove the truth of what Adell said.
  • The Trial Court found the defendants guilty.  They appealed.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed.
    • The Appellate Court looked to FRE 803(3) and found that the statement was admissible under the state of mind exception to hearsay.
    • The Appellate Court also found that the “Hillmon Doctrine” was not explicitly spelled out in the FRE, but that it was an acceptable interpretation of the rules.
  • Basically, the Hillmon Doctrine says that, the state of mind of the declarant can be used inferentially to prove other matters which are in issue.
    • “When the performance of a particular act by an individual is an issue in a care, his intention to perform that act may be shown. From that intention, the factfinder may draw the inference that the person carried out his intention and performed the act.”
      • That’s now known as a “Pheaster Statement”.
    • But Pheaster Statements are limited in how they can be used:
      • A statement of a declarant is not admissible solely to show that a 3rd party acted in conformity with his/her intent.
      • However, a statement of a declarant is admissible to show the declarant acted in conformity with his/her intent together with a 3rd party, but the 3rd party is entitled to a limiting instruction.