The Supreme Court today considers a fundamental issue involving the Sixth Amendment right of an accused criminal to confront witnesses against him. The Christian Science Monitor notes that the case of Crawford v. Washington deals with the trial of Michael Crawford for a 1999 knife attack in Washington State, his lawyers’ legal briefs went back to 1603 England and the treason trial of Sir Walter Raleigh.
The main evidence was a written statement obtained from a Raleigh friend, who Raleigh said had recanted. But the law permitted written statements alone as evidence, and Raleigh was convicted and sentenced to death.
The American justice system is increasingly granting exceptions to the constitutional right of the accused to confront witnesses against them, the Monitor says. Crawford’s lawyers want the justices to rule that all testimonial statements against criminal defendants be subject to cross-examination or barred as evidence.
Prosecutors from Thurston County, Washington disagree. “The confrontation clause was not meant to eliminate all hearsay statements against a defendant. Some hearsay statements are sufficiently reliable so that adversarial testing is not required,” says prosecutor John Michael Jones in a brief to the court. U.S. Solicitor General Theodore Olson also urges the justices to reject a bright-line constitutional rule.
The main issue is whether Crawford’s wife, Sylvia, could be used as a key “witness” for the prosecution at his trial. Prosecutors are barred from forcing a wife or husband to testify against a spouse, so they presented her “testimony” to the jury in the form of a transcript and tape recording of a statement she had made to police shortly after the stabbing.