In March, a criminal court judge in the Bronx appeared to stake out novel legal ground by ruling that prosecutors could use 911 recordings of the woman’s anguished call for help as evidence, even though she would not testify, the New York Times reports. Within weeks, prosecutors and judges around the country seized on the decision by Judge Ethan Greenberg, citing it as important precedent as they wrestled with their own cases. The ruling would be cited in 15 high-level court cases, from North Carolina to Nevada, and it was included in the 2004 edition of a widely used law textbook.
The Times says the ruling was based on incorrect information. The person captured on the tape in that was a neighbor, not the victim. The call had been made some nine hours after the alleged assault, not while it was happening. Prosecutors eventually abandoned the case. None of this seems likely to blunt the impact of the ruling, which continues to have a legal life of its own. The Bronx decision came as courts across the country were wrestling with questions about how to prosecute crimes when accusers would not appear for cross-examination. Courts were trying to find the balance between punishing abusers and making sure they got the chance to challenge their accusers, a right laid out in the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution. The U.S. Supreme Court had ruled on March 8, that certain statements could not be considered evidence at trial unless the defendant has the chance to confront the person who made them.