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Monday, March 20, 2006

SCOTUS: Hears Confrontation Clause Case

SCOTUS may be poised to make it more difficult to prosecute cases of domestic violence when victims are unwilling or unable to testify in court. Yesterday, the Court heard the appeals of two men who were convicted of assaulting women based, in one case, on a recorded 911 call, and, in the other, on a police officer's testimony of what the victim told him.

Over the past two decades, prosecutors in domestic-violence and child-abuse cases have relied heavily on testimony by police officers and counselors who interviewed the victims when those victims could not or would not appear in court. But Scalia insists the Constitution guarantees all defendants a right to confront their accusers in court, and he sees no basis for an exception in cases of domestic violence or child abuse.

Since the Crawford v. Washington decision, prosecutors have relied more on recorded 911 calls and on "spontaneous" statements given to police officers who arrive at a crime scene. The theory is that these statements are uniquely revealing and distinct from formal testimony and, therefore, should be allowed in court. But the Supreme Court appears ready to close that option in the pair of cases heard yesterday. Scalia wrote for a 7-2 majority in the Crawford case, and the two dissenters β€” Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor β€” are now gone. More from Seattle Times. . . [Mark Godsey]

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