December 21, 2005
Recent CRS Reports on Legal Issues
EXCITED UTTERANCES, "TESTIMONIAL" STATEMENTS, AND THE CONFRONTATION CLAUSE
CRS Publication Date: 12/14/2005
Document No.: RL33195
Author(s): Brian T. Yeh, American Law Division
Abstract: The United States Supreme Court will hear oral argument this term in appeals from two state supreme court cases, Hammon v. Indiana and Davis v. Washington, concerning the admissibility of "excited utterance" statements made by non-testifying witnesses at criminal trials. In the landmark Crawford v. Washington case in 2004, the Court held that the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause forbids hearsay "testimonial" evidence from being introduced against the accused unless the witness is unavailable to testify and the defendant has had a prior opportunity to crossexamine the witness. However, the Crawford Court declined to provide a comprehensive definition of "testimonial," leaving such task "for another day." This omission has caused state and federal courts to struggle over which out-ofcourt statements are "testimonial" for purposes of triggering the Crawford requirements. The confusion has arisen most often in cases involving out-of-court statements made by non-testifying witnesses to investigating police officers at a crime scene or during 911 emergency calls. These "excited utterance" statements have traditionally been admitted into evidence under an exception to the hearsay exclusionary rules followed by courts. However, since Crawford, the lower courts have disagreed over whether spontaneous utterances are considered "testimonial" statements subject to the Sixth Amendment's cross-examination mandate. These two cases offer the Court an opportunity to resolve this uncertainty by more clearly explaining what constitutes "testimonial" statements. The outcome has the potential to impact significantly the strategy and method of prosecuting criminal cases, particularly the use of out-of-court accusations against defendants in domestic violence and gang-related crimes.
U.S. SUPREME COURT NOMINEE SAMUEL A. ALITO AND THE ABORTION OPINIONS OF THE U.S. COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT
CRS Publication Date: 12/16/2005
Document No.: RL33198
Author(s): Jon O. Shimabukuro, American Law Division
Abstract: On October 31, 2005, Judge Samuel A. Alito was nominated by President George W. Bush to replace retiring Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. During his tenure with the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, the court considered a number of abortion cases, including Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, a case that was later heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. This report reviews the Third Circuit's notable abortion opinions during Judge Alito's tenure and examines his concurring and dissenting opinions in some of those cases.
CIVIL RIGHTS OPINIONS OF U.S. SUPREME COURT NOMINEE SAMUEL ALITO: A LEGAL OVERVIEW
CRS Publication Date: 12/12/2005
Document No.: RL33187
Author(s): Charles V. Dale, American Law Division
Abstract: During his 15 years as a federal appellate judge on the Third Circuit, Judge Alito has written for the majority, concurred, or dissented in several cases alleging discrimination based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, and other prohibited grounds. His legal position in these cases has varied, depending on the facts and law being applied, and defy rigid or facile classification. Nonetheless, some continuity in judicial approach, both substantive and procedural, may arguably be discerned from a review of several of his significant opinions.
PROPOSALS IN THE 109TH CONGRESS TO SPLIT THE NINTH CIRCUIT COURT OF APPEALS
CRS Publication Date: 12/14/2005
Document No.: RL33189
Author(s): R. Sam Garrett, Government and Finance Division
Abstract: This report compares relevant provisions of the House version of the Deficit Reduction Act with Senate proposals introduced during the 109th Congress which propose to split the circuit. Despite differences, these House and Senate proposals are largely similar. The report also provides background information on the debate concerning splitting the Ninth Circuit and analyzes the outlook for doing so. The current debate echoes themes present in the past. Disagreement generally focuses on three areas: (1) geography and population; (2) efficiency; and (3) the circuit's rulings. Although the House version of the budget reconciliation bill potentially increases the likelihood of dividing the circuit, the measure could also face substantial obstacles. Further, history suggests that should Congress not adopt the provision splitting the Ninth Circuit, the issue will continue to be active.
THE SUPREME COURT'S OVERRULING OF CONSTITUTIONAL PRECEDENT: AN OVERVIEW
CRS Publication Date: 11/29/2005
Document No.: RL33172
Author(s): George Costello, American Law Division
Abstract: As a general rule, the Supreme Court adheres to precedent, citing the doctrine of stare decisis ("to stand by a decision"). The general rule of stare decisis is not an absolute rule, however, and the Court recognizes the need on occasion to correct what are perceived as erroneous decisions or to adapt decisions to changed circumstances. In deciding whether to overrule precedent the Court takes a variety of approaches and applies a number of different standards, many of them quite general and flexible in application. As a result, the law of stare decisis in constitutional decision making can be considered amorphous and manipulable, and it is difficult to predict when the Court will rely on stare decisis and when it will depart from it. This report cites instances in which the Court has overruled precedent as well as instances in which it has declined to do so, and sets forth the rationales that the Court has employed.
SAME-SEX MARRIAGES: LEGAL ISSUES
CRS Publication Date: 12/05/2005
Document No.: RL31994
Author(s): Alison M. Smith, American Law Division
Abstract: Massachusetts became the first state to legalize marriage between same-sex couples on May 17, 2004, as a result of a November 2003 decision by the state's highest court that denying gay and lesbian couples the right to marry violated the state's constitution. Currently, federal law does not recognize same-sex marriages. This report discusses the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), P.L. 104-199, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages and allows individual states to refuse to recognize such marriages performed in other states, and discusses the potential legal challenges to DOMA. Moreover, this report summarizes the legal principles applied in determining the validity of a marriage contracted in another state, surveys the various approaches employed by states to prevent same-sex marriage, and examines the recent House and Senate Resolutions introduced in the 109th Congress proposing a constitutional amendment (H.J.Res. 39, S.J.Res. 1, and S.J.Res. 13) and limiting Federal courts' jurisdiction to hear or determine any question pertaining to the interpretation of DOMA (H.R. 1100).
GUANTANAMO DETAINEES: HABEAS CORPUS CHALLENGES IN FEDERAL COURT
CRS Publication Date: 12/07/2005
Document No.: RL33180
Author(s): Jennifer K. Elsea and Kenneth Thomas, American Law Division
Abstract: This report provides background, including an overview of the Rasul decision and of the CSRT procedures established to comply with it, summarizes court cases related to the detentions and the use of military commissions, and summarizes the Graham Amendment and analyzes how it might affect detainee-related litigation in federal courts.
CRS reports listed above are available from GalleyWatch.com
Ron Jones, University of Cincinnati Law Library
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