A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision virtually eliminating the use of videotaped statements in place of live court testimony by witnesses could jeopardize a range of abuse cases, from child molestation to domestic violence and elder abuse, legal experts tell the Sacramento Bee. Rather than putting vulnerable witnesses on the stand, California law had allowed prosecutors to use videotaped statements in some cases. Defense attorneys hailed the Supreme Court’s ruling as a restoration of a constitutional right. “The right to confront one’s accusers is a concept that dates back to Roman times,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in the majority opinion.
Last week, Sacramento County prosecutors dropped charges against an Elk Grove state worker who was accused of molesting a 4-year-old girl, because the girl, now 6, was unable to testify except through a videotaped statement. Before the March Supreme Court ruling, children who said they were molested routinely gave taped statements to trained personnel. The tapes could have been used in court if the child refused or was unable to testify. Similarly, in domestic violence cases, videotaped statements by victims to police could have been used in court even if the victim later recanted or disappeared before trial. Videotaped statements by elderly abuse victims were also used in cases when they later died or became debilitated. But not anymore, since the court ruled in Crawford v. Washington.