The U.S. Supreme Court is making it more difficult for prosecutors to introduce statements at trial from witnesses who are not available for cross-examination by the defense. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that the unanimous ruling in a Washington State case addressed a situation that arises when a witness who made a statement to police later claims a privilege against testifying, or when a co-defendant who pleads guilty makes incriminating statements in plea negotiations.
The high court sided with Michael Crawford, who was convicted of assaulting an acquaintance he had accused of trying to rape his wife. Sylvia Crawford did not testify at her husband’s trial; prosecutors played a tape they said showed her story did not match his. Michael Crawford’s lawyers had no opportunity to cross-examine Sylvia Crawford about the tape. “That alone is sufficient to make out a violation of the Sixth Amendment,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote.
All nine justices agreed to throw out Crawford’s conviction. Seven justices took the unusual step of overruling a case that laid out complex rules for use of statements without the opportunity for cross-examination.