State of Mind: The Hillmon Case, the Mcguffin, and the Supreme Court

75 Pages Posted: 9 Oct 2005


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 understanding of the facts of the underlying dispute about the identity of a corpse. The author's investigations into newspaper archives and the original case documents point to a different understanding, and proposes that this important rule of evidence may have grown out of an historical mistake.

Keywords: Evidence, Legal History, Law and Literature

Suggested Citation

Wesson, Marianne Mimi, State of Mind: The Hillmon Case, the Mcguffin, and the Supreme Court. U of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-09. Available at SSRN: or

Marianne Mimi Wesson (Contact Author)

University of Colorado Law School ( email )

401 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309
United States

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