The Talking Dead: Should Decedents’ Statements Fall Under Rule 801(d)(2)(A)?
Matthew W. Tieman
There is a circuit split as to whether a decedent’s statements can be entered into evidence under the exclusion from hearsay provided for party-opponent statements under Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(A). The courts disagree as to the best characterization of decedents’ statements—whether they should be understood as privity-based admissions that, while admissible under the common law, are no longer admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence, or if the decedent should be considered a party to the litigation, in which case the statements are admissible under Rule 801(d)(2)(A). This Note first discusses the circuit split by explaining the concept of privity-based admissions, conducting a statutory interpretation of the Federal Rules to determine if the enactment of the rules abrogated the common law admissibility of privity-based admissions, and analyzing whether it is appropriate for a decedent to be considered a party to the litigation. The Note then discusses policy reasons for a rule favoring exclusion—namely, the concerns about perjury and ensuring equitable treatment of the estate that gave rise to states’ Dead Man’s acts, and the fact that there may be other rules under which to admit the evidence. The Note concludes that a rule favoring admissibility is preferable because the claims would not be in front of the court but for the decedent, and a rule favoring admissibility will lead to more consistent outcomes.