The confrontation clause requires that prosecutors put their witnesses on the stand, under oath. The U.S. Supreme Court explained: The defendant’s ability to confront a hostile witness in person puts pressure on the witness to tell the truth, allows the defendant’s counsel to cross-examine the witness (which may reveal him or her to be unreliable), and gives the jury an up-close view of the witness, so that they can decide for themselves if the witness is believable.
The Sixth Amendment is ratified as part of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. The amendment guarantees the rights of the accused in criminal prosecutions.
In Mattox v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that it was not a violation of the Sixth Amendment to allow testimony of two witnesses who died before the trial. The testimony was made under oath and written down by a court official, and the witnesses had been cross-examined. The court rules that this is enough to satisfy the goals of the confrontation clause.
In Kirby v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the conviction of a defendant for involvement in a theft. To prove guilt, the prosecution had to show that the defendant knew the items were stolen at the time that he received the goods, but at the trial, the prosecution produced only the theft convictions of three men at a related trial. The Court finds such evidence violates the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause.
At trial, a witness’s statement from a preliminary hearing was read into evidence. The trial results in a conviction. In Motes v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court reverses the defendants’ conviction. The Court rules that if the absence of the witness is not due to his or her death, and is in no way the fault of the defendants, then introduction of that witness’s prior testimony violates the Sixth Amendment.
In Pointer v. Texas, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause applies to trials in state courts as well as federal courts. Using the “doctrine of incorporation,” the court applies the confrontation clause to the states through the 14th Amendment.
In Bruton v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause was violated when the prosecution, at a trial of two co-defendants, introduces testimony about the oral confession of one (Mr. Evans) that implicated the other (Mr. Bruton). Mr. Evans decided not to take the stand as a witness – exercising his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination – and so Mr. Bruton was not able to cross-examine Mr. Evans about his confession.
In Smith v. Illinois, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him is violated when a prosecution witness is identified only by an assumed name and refuses to provide his real name or address. The Court finds that without such basic information, the defendant’s ability to have his counsel effectively cross-examine the witness is damaged. Most notably, defense counsel cannot conduct a thorough investigation into the background and reputation of the witness, evidence that could help damage the witness’s credibility and could help the defendant’s case.
In California v. Green, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that it does not violate a defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights to allow into evidence a prior sworn statement that a witness gave at a preliminary hearing. The witness appeared at trial but was unable to give clear testimony about his earlier statement. Citing its 1895 opinion in Mattox v. United States, the Court allows the witness’s statement to come into evidence. The Court finds that the witness’s inability to remember key facts makes him just as unhelpful as a dead witness. But, like the testimony allowed in the Mattox case, since “it had been given under oath and the witness had been cross-examined by the defendant’s lawyer,” it was allowed.
In Dutton v. Evans, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that a Georgia trial court did not violate the confrontation clause when it permitted a witness to testify at the trial of one defendant, Mr. Evans, about a comment made by Mr. Evans’ co-defendant while both were in a holding cell together. Because the comment was not “crucial” or “devastating” evidence against Mr. Evans, and because he was able to cross-examine the witness about his conversation with the co-defendant, the Court concludes the jury had “a satisfactory basis for evaluating the truth” of the statement, and therefore, the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause was not violated.
In United States v. Inadi, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that an out-of-court statement by the defendant’s alleged co-conspirator, made during a wiretapped conversation, may be introduced into evidence against him even though the alleged co-conspirator is available to testify. The Court rules that the taped conversation has its own value as evidence of the conspiracy, and that value is not dependent on the defendant’s ability to cross-examine the alleged co-conspirator.
In Coy v. Iowa, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause was violated when two 13-year-old witnesses in a child sexual abuse case were allowed to testify against the defendant behind a screen so they would not have to see the defendant. The defendant was able to hear their testimony and see the girls dimly. The Court leaves open the possibility that such a screen would be allowable when a child witness was likely to experience trauma if forced to testify in open court.
In Maryland v. Craig, the U.S. Supreme Court expands on its 1988 Coy v. Iowa ruling and finds that a child witness in a sexual-abuse case may testify via closed-circuit television to prevent likely “serious emotional distress” caused by having to face the defendant accused of the abuse. In another case, Idaho v. Wright, the Court restricts the testimony of adults who have interviewed child sexual-abuse victims. The Court says the prosecution would have to convince the judge that the child’s statements were inherently reliable.
In Gray v. Maryland, the U.S. Supreme Court expands on its 1968 ruling in Bruton v. United States. In this joint trial of two defendants, one co-defendant confessed before trial but did not take the witness stand. The Court rules that it violates the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause for the confession to be read into evidence and to say “deleted” or “deletion” whenever the other defendant’s name is mentioned. The Court finds that the deletions suggest to the jury that the other defendant is the person being referred to, yet the co-defendant who made the confession is unable to be cross-examined.
In two companion cases, the U.S. Supreme Court is asked to decide whether a victim’s report of a crime to a 911 operator or to a police investigator qualifies as “testimonial evidence.” If they are found to be testimonial, then they would likely be inadmissible as evidence because the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to cross-examine witnesses. In Davis v. Washington, the justices find that 911 tapes are admissible because callers are not acting as witnesses at the time. In Hammon v. Indiana, statements to police investigating a crime are found to be “testimonial” and cannot be allowed into evidence at trial.