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Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Law - More on yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court decision in "confrontation clause" case

Here is Linda Greenhouse's story today on yesterday's dual decision on the 6th Amendment's confrontation clause. The story begins:

A crime victim's emergency call to 911 can be introduced as evidence at trial even if the victim is not present for cross-examination, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday.

At the same time the court held that prosecutors cannot make similar use of the transcript of a police interview that was conducted principally for the purpose of investigating a crime rather than responding to a developing emergency.

The court addressed the two situations in light of the Confrontation Clause in the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees a criminal defendant the right "to be confronted with the witnesses against him."

The court has interpreted this guarantee to bar the use of "testimonial statements" by witnesses who do not appear in court. The question in the two cases, which the court answered in a single opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, turned on whether a 911 call on the one hand, or a statement given to the police at a crime scene on the other, qualified as "testimonial."

A call for help to 911 is not inherently "testimonial" because the caller is not acting as a witness, Justice Scalia said. "No 'witness' goes into court to proclaim an emergency and seek help," he explained.

On the other hand, statements given to police officers who are investigating the scene of a crime, if similar to statements that might be made in court, qualify as testimonial and generally may not be admitted, he said, at least to the extent that they are "neither a cry for help nor the provision of information enabling officers immediately to end a threatening situation."

Justice Clarence Thomas dissented from that part of the opinion. Both the statements at issue were "nontestimonial and admissible," he said. He added that in excluding the statement to the police, the court "extends the Confrontation Clause far beyond the abuses it was intended to prevent."

It was something of a surprise that the court decided the two cases in a single opinion. They were appeals from separate courts and had been argued separately in March.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 20, 2006 08:56 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions