Law & Literature
Marianne Wesson, "Particular Intentions": The Hillmon Case and the Supreme Court, 18 Law & Literature 343 (2006), available at https://scholar.law.colorado.edu/faculty-articles/381.
The case of Mutual Life Insurance Company v. Hillmon is one of the most influential decisions in the law of evidence. Decided by the Supreme Court in 1892, it invented an exception to the hearsay rule for statements encompassing the intentions of the declarant. But this exception seems not to rest on any plausible theory of the categorical reliability of such statements. This article suggests that the case turned instead on the Court's attachment to a particular narrative about the events that gave rise to the case, events that produced a corpse of disputed identity. The author's investigations into newspaper archives and the original case documents make the case for a different account, and propose that this important rule of evidence may have grown out of a historical error, committed by a Court too eager to narrate an attractive story.
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