Case of the Day: Bruton v. Texas
Posted on May 12, 2014
The case of the day is Bruton v. Texas (Tex. Ct. Crim. App. 2014). The defendant, Peter Cain Bruton, was found guilty of aggravated sexual assault of a child and sentenced to imprisonment for life. At his sentencing, the prosecution had sought to introduce documents purporting to be public records from England showing that Bruton had been previously convicted of crimes in the Crown Court in Norwich, an INTERPOL record purporting to show that he had previously convicted of crimes in the UK, and a letter from a Data Protection Disclosure Unit Officer of the Norfolk Constabulary to the Denton County (Texas) District Attorney’s Office purporting to show that he had previously been convicted twelve times for indecent assaults on a young girl or girls.
The question was whether the documents were self-authenticating. On the one hand, there was some information included in the documents that suggested that they did indeed refer to Bruton: some of them had his correct birth date, for example, and others correctly described his appearance, etc. But none of them had been legalized and none bore an apostille. The trial judge admitted them in evidence, but on appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new sentencing hearing.
On further appeal, the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed. It was clear that the documents did not have a “final certification” as required by Rule 902(3) to make a foreign public document self-authenticating (Texas Rule 902(3) is apparently similar to FRE 902(3) in the relevant respects). Perhaps the documents could come in as certified copies of public records under FRE 902(4), as at least some of them appeared to meet the requirements of that rule, but the foreign officer’s certification itself is a public document that requires a final certification under FRE 902(3).
The state did not challenge the exclusion of the INTERPOL document, probably wisely, but it is interesting to consider how an INTERPOL document, or any document executed by an officer of an international organization rather than by an officer of a foreign state, fits into the framework of Rule 902, if at all. FRE 902(3) refers to “A document that purports to be signed or attested by a person who is authorized by a foreign country’s law to do so.” It’s not clear (to me, anyway) whether any particular state’s law authorizes an INTERPOL official to sign particular documents.
In any event, the important thing to stress about a case such as this is just how easy it would have been for the state to make the documents (with the exception of the INTERPOL document) self-authenticating. The UK, like the US, is a party to the Hague Apostille Convention, and even if the various court officials in the UK with whom the Texas prosecutors communicated didn’t know how to legalize the documents, Texas could simply have approached the UK’s legalization office and obtained apostilles, which would have solved the problem.