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United States v. Sarmiento-Perez, 633 F.2d 1092 (5th Cir. 1981).

Hearsay statements have traditionally been regarded as inadmissible evidence because of their unreliability. Exceptions have developed, however, which allow particular hearsay declarations to be admitted in evidence provided they possess sufficient guarantees of trustworthiness.

Declarations against interest are one such exception. This exception, which originated in the early 1800’s, formerly encompassed statements against pecuniary or proprietary interest, but not statements against penal interest. A lack of sound reasoning for this materialistic restriction provided the motivation for a painfully slow trend toward sanctioning the use of extrajudicial statements against penal interest in American courts.

Promulgation of the Federal Rules of Evidence in 1975 enhanced this movement. Rule 804(b)(3) codifies the against-interest exception including within its definition those hearsay declarations which are adverse to the declarant’s penal interest. Although it enlarges the scope of the against-interest exception, Rule 804(b)(3) fails to provide courts with any guidance when they are confronted with a particularly troublesome type of declaration against interest: the inculpatory statement against the penal interest of the declarant. This ambiguity created a vacuum which, until the decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in United States v. Sarmiento-Perez, the federal courts had failed to adequately address.

This note will focus upon the holding and implications of the Sarmiento-Perez decision. Toward that goal, special attention will be given to the attempt by the Sarmiento-Perez court to balance the seemingly irreconcilable conflict between the confrontation clause of the sixth amendment and the admission of inculpatory hearsay declarations.

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