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Monday, June 19, 2006

Ind. Decisions - U.S Supreme Court decides Indiana "confrontation clause" case today

Under the title Davis v. Washington, the Supreme Court today handed down an opinion covering both that case and Hammon v. Indiana, dealing with hearsay and the confrontation clause. Here is an early AP report:

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that statements made by crime victims to 911 operators or police during emergencies can be used in court even if those victims do not testify at trial.

In a pair of cases, the justices gave a nod to the difficulties of prosecuting domestic violence cases.

By a 9-0 vote, justices ruled that a Washington man's right to confront his accuser was not violated because he could not cross-examine his ex-girlfriend, who claimed in a 911 call that he had assaulted her.

In another case, out of Indiana, the justices ruled 8-1 that a police officer had crossed the line - from dealing with an emergency to conducting an investigation - when he questioned a woman about what her husband had done to her well after she had been assaulted.

By affirming the Washington man's conviction and reversing the Indiana man's, however, the justices opened the door for prosecutors and police to gather evidence to show that batterers intimidated their victims into silence and "forfeited" their rights to confront their accusers in court. * * *

Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone dissenter in the Indiana case, writing that he believed the officer's testimony about what the woman had told him was admissible in court. But Thomas said he does not believe the majority's definition of when an emergency ends and an investigation begins is workable.

The cases involved Adrian Davis of Washington and Hershel Hammon of Peru, Ind., who had argued their rights were violated because their accusers did not testify under oath and were not subjected to cross-examination at their trials.

Lawyers on all sides of the cases - as well as the Bush administration - wanted the justices to clarify a 2004 high court decision [ILB: that would be another Washington case, Crawford v. Washington]that barred prosecutors' use of statements from victims or witnesses if a defendant did not have a chance to question them in court.

At Davis' trial, a judge allowed the tape of Michelle McCottry's February 2001 emergency call to be admitted into evidence but barred police testimony about what McCottry had said to officers. She disappeared before trial and did not testify despite a subpoena.

In the other case out of Peru, Ind., Amy Hammon also did not testify. But a judge allowed a police officer to testify that she had told him that her husband, Hershel, had thrown her into the glass panel of a gas heater during an argument before police arrived.

Thomas, in his dissent, said the police officer's questions could have been posed to determine whether Amy Hammon remained in danger, not solely to gather evidence to charge her husband with a crime.

Indiana Attorney General Steve Carter said in a statement that he was disappointed with the ruling, but expressed hope that it will eventually permit prosecutors to use during trial many crime-scene statements made to emergency responders.

"In sum, we have a minor setback, but hopefully long-term win in the battle for justice against criminals who use fear against their victims," Carter said.

For background, see these 3/13/06 and 3/21/06 ILB entries.

Here is what SCOTUSblog says about the two decisions:

In the second of three rulings on argued cases, the Court took two differing positions on whether statements that amount to "excited utterances," made out of court, may be admitted as evidence in a trial, under the 2004 decision in Crawford v. Washington. The Court allowed as evidence the recording of a "911" call, finding that was not "testimonial." But it ruled that a statement made by a victim to a police officer at a crime scene was "testimonial" and could not be admitted at trial. Out of court statements that are deemed to be "testimonial" may not be admitted when the person who made the statements is not available to be cross-examined at the trial. (Justice Scalia's opinion is available here; Justice Thomas's concurring opinion is available here.) The cases are Davis v. Washington (05-5224) and Hammon v. Indiana (05-5705).
Here is how Justice Scalia's majority opinion concludes:
We have determined that, absent a finding of forfeiture by wrongdoing, the Sixth Amendment operates to exclude Amy Hammon’s affidavit. The Indiana courts may (if they are asked) determine on remand whether such a claim of forfeiture is properly raised and, if so, whether it is meritorious.
* * *
We affirm the judgment of the Supreme Court of Washington in No. 05–5224. We reverse the judgment of the Supreme Court of Indiana in No. 05–5705, and remand the case to that Court for proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.
Here is the 5-0 Indiana Supreme Court opinion from 6/16/05.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 19, 2006 04:17 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions