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Confrontation Clause Does Not Extend to Child-Abuse Testimony

When witness testimony has put a criminal defendant on trial, the Constitution’s Confrontation Clause requires that each and every criminal defendant should have the right to cross-examine his/her accuser. The purpose is that no one can stand behind anonymity when someone’s life and liberty could be taken away. This does not only apply to witness testimony; any type of evidence that could be admitted against the defendant must pass muster by being relevant, material, and reliable.

Confrontation Clause Purpose

The Confrontation Clause is important because it provides that an out-of-court statement may not be used against a defendant if the person is not available to testify to his/her words in trial. These out-of-court statements are known as hearsay and require that certain situations arise before these hearsay statements may be admitted as evidence against a criminal defendant.

The Confrontation Clause Exception

The United States Supreme Court recently made an exception to the Confrontation Clause, whereby young children are not forced to testify, although jurors may still hear the testimony of the children when they have told their teachers about any type of abuse that is occurring.

The Supreme Court Case At Issue

The case surrounds a three-year-old victim who came to preschool with bruises and abrasions that he told his teachers were the result of abuse from his mother’s boyfriend. Generally the Court would not permit the teachers’ testimony to be admitted into Court without the opportunity for the defense to cross-examine the child. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled that the testimony from the teachers who heard the child’s report of abuse was fair. The conviction of the boyfriend stayed.

The Reasoning Behind this Exemption

The reasoning behind this exemption from the Confrontation Clause is that neither the child nor the teachers are responsible for the prosecution as it’s being brought by the state. Also, the purpose is to protect the safety of children from abusive situations, especially where being cross-examined in open-court could re-traumatize or scare little children from telling their side of the story.

Child Testimony in Criminal Proceedings: The Issues

In many states, the testimony of children is not relied upon because the fear that the children are not able to appreciate the gravity of their words and testimony, the inability to distinguish fantasy from fact, and influence from external factors like parents. As children get older, their testimony becomes more and more reliable because the children realize that their testimony has a real impact on another person’s life and liberty.

Protection of Children vs. the Right of Confrontation

Not only is the purpose of this exemption to promote the protection of children, but many times child abuse cases are extremely intimate, with the abuse only occurring when it is the abuser and the child in the room. This means that sometimes the only evidence of abuse is from the only witness in the room: the child. By not permitting the admission of the testimony of children, child-abusers will not be prosecuted because of a lack of evidence, thereby creating a situation where the abuse may continue. At the end of the day, protecting the most vulnerable population is at the center of public safety; weighing the right of a criminal defendant’s right to confront and the child’s right to be free from abuse is at the center of this case. The boyfriend was sentenced to a 28-year prison sentence.

Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney in Fort Lauderdale

If you or a loved one has been arrested for a criminal offense, you have the right to confront your accusers according to the Confrontation Clause. It is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney like Kevin J. Kulik. Contact Kevin J. Kulik today for a free and confidential consultation in the Fort Lauderdale area.

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