An alleged crime victim’s 911 call can be used at trial even if he or she does not testify and undergo cross-examination, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled yesterday, reports USA Today. By an 8-1 vote, the justices also ruled that if an alleged victim recounts an incident to police at the scene after it occurs, the account cannot be used at trial unless the defendant is able to cross-examine the accuser. The rulings in cases from Washington and Indiana addressed the Sixth Amendment right of confrontation, which ensures that a defendant may closely question witnesses against him or her. In 2004, the court had barred the use of “testimonial” statements at trial unless the witness was unavailable or had been cross-examined earlier.
In the new cases, the justices defined “testimonial” by drawing a line between statements made in emergency situations, which the court said could be permitted as evidence at trial without cross-examination, and statements gathered later by police “to establish or prove past events,” which the court barred without cross-examination. In the Washington dispute, a woman told a 911 operator that her former boyfriend was attacking her. She did not testify. Lower courts rejected her accuser’s claim that the admission of the 911 recording violated his constitutional rights. Justice Antonin Scalia said for the court that statements made to authorities responding to an “ongoing emergency” should be allowed as evidence.