High Court To Decide What Evidence Is “Testimonial”


The Supreme Court will address a new debate in criminal law and decide the circumstances under which prosecutors can use the transcripts of 911 calls, and similar unprompted statements by crime victims, as evidence, says the New York Times. The debate was started after a high court ruling last year that significantly limited the use that prosecutors could make of statements by witnesses who did not appear at trial or otherwise make themselves available for cross-examination. In Crawford v. Washington, the court ruled that if a statement were “testimonial” in nature, it could not be introduced at trial, in the absence of the witness, unless the defendant had a previous chance to cross-examine the witness, such as in a formal deposition. The court did not say what it meant by “testimonial.”

In two cases accepted for argument in March will require the justices to interpret the Sixth Amendment’s “confrontation clause,” which gives defendants the right to confront their accusers. In one case from Washington State, a prosecutor played a 911 tape, on which a woman gave details of an alleged assailant’s identity, including his middle name and date of birth. The second case involves statements made to the police who came to an Indiana couple’s home to investigate a report of a domestic disturbance. A wife did not appear at trial, but a judge ruled her statement admissible.

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/01/politics/politicsspecial1/01scotus.html

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