Can a man who admitted killing his girlfriend, but who claims he did so in self-defense, prevent a jury from hearing her reports to the police that she feared for her life? The Los Angeles Times says the Supreme Court is due to decide that question in a case that has alarmed advocates for victims of domestic violence. They fear that the justices, determined to protect the fair-trial rights of defendants, are in danger of creating an incentive to kill. Dwayne Giles of Los Angeles says his trial violated his right to confront his accuser in court: Because she was dead, she was not available to testify.
The Giles case is the third in four years before the Supreme Court that tests whether out-of-court statements such as a police officer’s report can be used as evidence in a trial when the witness does not testify and is not available for cross-examination. In two rulings, Justice Antonin Scalia set down a firm rule barring use of such evidence from absent witnesses. “If Giles wins, it will be devastating. Victims’ past statements are often critical because, especially in homicide cases, they may prove the defendant’s intent to kill, his malice, and disprove his claims of self-defense,” said Joan Meier, a George Washington University law professor who filed a brief for the university’s Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project. “It would basically hand abusers the power to cripple the state’s ability to protect them.”