Posted on 3/12/18

In relevant part, the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” This is known as the Confrontation Clause.

The Confrontation Clause in the Constitution is of most importance with respect to providing a defendant with proper protection. That is to say, the Confrontation Clause provides criminal defendants with the opportunity to face prosecution witnesses and dispute those witnesses’ testimonies, which is accomplished through cross-examination.

Crawford Case

The 2004 United States Supreme Court case of Crawford v. Watson set certain standards with respect to the Confrontation Clause. Under Crawford, the Confrontation Clause forbids testimonial statements to be admitted as evidence when the witness is not available to testify unless the defendant had the opportunity to cross-examine the witness.

Note that in general, an out-of-court statement will not be admitted as evidence because such a statement is hearsay. In that case, however, part of the accuser’s statement had already been corroborated in court, so the court had no issue with the statement from a hearsay standpoint.

Vinson Case

A key point of the Crawford ruling is that testimonial evidence is barred from being admitted into a case; non-testimonial evidence, however, can be admitted. To determine whether a statement is testimonial, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals, in the 2008 case of Vinson v. State, ruled that statements made to help police during an ongoing investigation to meet an emergency are considered non-testimonial statements. Otherwise, statements to the police are testimonial and fall under the Confrontation Clause.

In that case, police went to a Houston-area home on a domestic disturbance call. There, police found a woman who was bleeding an in pain from recent injuries. First, the girlfriend claimed that Vinson assaulted her. Afterward, the police sat with the girlfriend for more questioning. During the questioning, Vinson entered the room shirtless and sweating and demanded that the girlfriend tell the police the “truth.” The police then arrested Vinson and brought him to a police car. In the meantime, the girlfriend gave police information about Vinson and how Vinson physically assaulted her.

At trial, the girlfriend was unavailable so the police officer who questioned the girlfriend testified about what she said. Vinson objected, citing the Confrontation Clause.

On appeal to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, the Court considered the circumstances and stated that a determination is based on whether the girlfriend’s statements to the police were testimonial. As mentioned, testimonial statements trigger the Confrontation Clause. The Court ruled that up until Vinson was arrested and brought to the car constituted an emergency investigation where statements are made to the police, which was not considered testimonial. Once Vinson was secured and the emergency passed, such statements are testimonial and therefore subject to the Confrontation Clause. As such, those statements are not admissible, per the Confrontation Clause.

Arrested? You have rights under the American criminal justice system. You need a lawyer who is both skilled and knowledgeable. Contact the law firm of Christopher Abel.

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