A 2004 Supreme Court decision held that unless a witness is available for cross-examination, the state cannot ordinarily introduce incriminating statements the witness made before disappearing. What if the defendant stands accused of the witness's murder? The New York Times says the court will hear a case presenting that wrinkle in the Sixth Amendment's “confrontation clause.” A California man was convicted of shooting his former girlfriend to death several weeks after she complained to the police that he had threatened and beaten her. The trial court allowed an officer who had responded to the girlfriend's complaint to testify about her description of the dispute.
The defendant, Dwayne Giles, argued unsuccessfully to the California Supreme Court that those statements should have been kept out of court, because there was no proof that he had killed the victim for the purpose of preventing her testimony. The California court applied the doctrine of “forfeiture by wrongdoing,” which means that a person should not be permitted to profit from wrongful acts. To invoke the doctrine, it was not necessary to prove that the defendant's motive was to make the witness unavailable, the court said. The question of whether proof of motive is necessary has come up frequently since the high court's 2004 decision in Crawford v. Washington.