Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Confrontation Clause

Each of these Sixth Amendment Court Cases is somehow significant to the way the Supreme Court has interpreted the Confrontation Clause in the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution. Well, most are significant, some are just interesting! You can read about the history and meaning of the Sixth Amendment here.

Sixth Amendment Court Cases

Before 1965, the Court had little need to address the scope of the Confrontation Clause's protections of the rights to cross-examine a witness and to do so face to face. This was because the Bill of Rights was originally only a restriction against the Federal government, and not against the states. Gradually, after the introduction of the 14th Amendment after the Civil War, through the use of the 14th Amendment's Due Process Clause, nearly all of the restrictions in the Bill of Rights have also been applied to the states. You can read the 14th Amendment here.

The Supreme Court

The application of the Confrontation Clause through the 14th Amendment did not occur until 1965. Prior to that time, the Court was in charge of the federal court system and regulated the use of the Confrontation Clause's provisions. After that time, with the introduction of a broad mix of state laws into the process, the Court was obliged to clarify to a greater extent, the use and scope of the clause.

Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Confrontation Clause -
Smith vs. Illinois Smith vs. Illinois, 1968, addressed the issue of whether or not the state could introduce as evidence, statements obtained from an undercover police informant, against a defendant charged with selling drugs. The state would not produce the witness in person because it said that revealing his identity would undermine the secretive nature and strategies used by the police department.

The defendant claimed that his 6th Amendment Confrontation Clause right to confront the witness had been violated in his trial and that the conviction should be thrown out. The Court agreed with the defendant. The right to cross-examine a witness is absolute.

Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Confrontation Clause -
Bruton vs. United States In Bruton vs. United States, 1968, the issue of whether or not a hearsay statement could be used as evidence in a trial was addressed. What makes Bruton unique is that it involves the statement of one person against another person who were tried in a joint trial, neither of whom took the stand, taking advantage of their 5th Amendment right not to have to testify against themselves.

In this case, the two defendants, Bruton and Evans, were charged with armed postal robbery. During the trial, a postal inspector said that Evans had confessed to him that both he and Bruton had committed the crime. Neither Evans nor Bruton took the stand in the trial. When the jury was deliberating its decision, the judge instructed them that the hearsay testimony of the postal inspector could not be used as evidence against Bruton, and they should disregard this statement when making their decision. He also told them that the statement could be used against Evans himself.

The principle being addressed here is that Bruton's defense attorney could not cross-examine the witness, Evans, who allegedly made the statement, because Evans was not going to take the stand! This violated Bruton's 6th Amendment Confrontation Clause right to cross-examine the witness!

2008 Supreme Court of the United States

The first court found Evans and Bruton guilty. The Supreme Court ruled that the conviction against Bruton had to be thrown out because his Confrontation Clause right to cross-examine the witness had been violated. Later, by the way, the conviction against Evans was thrown as well, based on other violations.

This was an important case because it is a favorite trick of prosecutors to conduct a joint trial and use witnesses statements against each other. The statements can't be used by the jury if the witnesses aren't taking the stand, but the jury heard them anyway and the statements might influence them even though they are told to disregard them. Although there are exceptions, this ruling has eliminated many joint trials.

Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Confrontation Clause -
Maryland vs. Craig Maryland vs. Craig, 1990, dealt with the use of closed-circuit television in a trial. An allegedly abused child was allowed to testify over closed-circuit television because the prosecutor was able to prove to the court that additional trauma would occur to the alleged victim if the victim were to testify in the presence of the defendant. The proof given to the court followed established procedures and guidelines of Maryland law.

The Court ruled in this case that the defendant's 6th Amendment Confrontation Clause right to confront the witnesses against him had not been violated. The Court said that the extraordinary circumstances of the case, the fact that the defense counsel was allowed to cross-examine the witness and the fact that the judge, jury, defendant and attorneys could see the demeanor of the witness as she testified, satisfied the requirements of the Confrontation Clause.

Read more about the history and meaning of the Confrontation Clause here.
Read more about the history and meaning of the 6th Amendment here.

Learn more about Sixth Amendment Court Cases relating to the following Sixth Amendment clauses:

Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Speedy Trial Clause
Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Public Trial Clause
Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Right to Trial by Jury Clause
Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Arraignment Clause
Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Compulsory Process Clause
Sixth Amendment Court Cases - Right to Counsel Clause

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