CRS Annotated Constitution

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“The primary object of the constitutional provision in question was to prevent depositions of ex parte affidavits . . . being used against the prisoner in lieu of a personal examination and cross– examination of the witness in which the accused has an opportunity not only of testing the recollection and sifting the conscience of the witness, but of compelling him to stand face to face with the jury in order that they may look at him, and judge by his demeanor upon the stand and the manner in which he gives his testimony whether he is worthy of belief”145 The right of confrontation is “[o]ne of the fundamental guarantees of life and liberty . . . long deemed so essential for the due protection of life and liberty that it is guarded against legislative and judicial action by provisions in the Constitution of the United States and in the constitutions of most if not of all the States composing the Union.”146 Before 1965, when the Court held the right to be protected against state abridgment,147 it had little need to clarify the relationship between the right of confrontation and the hearsay rule,148 inasmuch as its supervisory powers over the inferior federal courts permitted it to control the admission of hearsay on this basis.149 Thus, on the basis of the Confrontation Clause, it had concluded that evidence given at a preliminary hearing could not be used at the trial if the[p.1422]absence of the witness was attributable to the negligence of the prosecution,150 but that if a witness’ absence had been procured by the defendant, testimony given at a previous trial on a different indictment could be used at the subsequent trial.151 It had also recognized the admissibility of dying declarations152 and of testimony given at a former trial by a witness since deceased.153 The prosecution was not permitted to use a judgment of conviction against other defendants on charges of theft in order to prove that the property found in the possession of defendant now on trial was stolen.154

Supplement: [P. 1422, add to text following n.154:]

A prosecutor, however, can comment on a defendant’s presence at trial, and call attention to the defendant’s opportunity to tailor his or her testimony to comport with that of previous witnesses.8

In a series of decisions beginning in 1965, the Court seemed to equate the Confrontation Clause with the hearsay rule, positing that a major purpose of the clause was “to give the defendant charged with crime an opportunity to cross–examine the witnesses against him,” unless one of the hearsay exceptions applies.155 Thus, in Pointer v. Texas,156 the complaining witness had testified at a preliminary hearing at which he was not cross–examined and the defendant was not represented by counsel; by the time of trial, the witness had moved to another State and the prosecutor made no effort to obtain his return. Offering the preliminary hearing testimony violated defendant’s right of confrontation. In Douglas v.[p.1423]Alabama,157 the prosecution called as a witness the defendant’s alleged accomplice, and when the accomplice refused to testify, pleading his privilege against self–incrimination, the prosecutor read to him to “refresh” his memory a confession in which he implicated defendant. Because defendant could not cross–examine the accomplice with regard to the truth of the confession, the Court held the Confrontation Clause had been violated. In Bruton v. United States,158 the use at a joint trial of a confession made by one of the defendants was held to violate the confrontation rights of the other defendant who was implicated by it because he could not cross–examine the codefendant not taking the stand.159 The Court continues to view as “presumptively unreliable accomplices’ confessions that incriminate defendants.”160


More recently, however, the Court has moved away from these cases. “While . . . hearsay rules and the Confrontation Clause are generally designed to protect similar values it is quite a different thing to suggest that the overlap is complete and that the Confrontation Clause is nothing more or less than a codification of the rules of hearsay and their exceptions as they existed historically at common law. Our decisions have never established such a congruence; indeed, we have more than once found a violation of confrontation values even though the statements in issue were admitted under an arguably recognized hearsay exception . . . . The converse is equally true: merely because evidence is admitted in violation of a long–established hearsay rule does not lead to the automatic conclusion that confrontation rights have been denied.”161

Further, the Court in California v. Green162 upheld the use at trial as substantive evidence of two prior statements made by a witness who at the trial claimed that he had been under the influence of LSD at the time of the occurrence of the events in question and that he could therefore neither deny nor affirm the truth of his prior statements. One of the earlier statements was sworn testimony given at a preliminary hearing at which the defendant was represented by counsel with the opportunity to cross–examine the witness; that statement was admissible because it had been subjected to cross–examination earlier, the Court held, and that was all that was required. The other statement had been made to policemen during custodial interrogation, had not been under oath, and, of course, had not been subject to cross–examination, but the Court deemed it admissible because the witness had been present at the trial and could have been cross–examined then. “[T]he Confrontation Clause does not require excluding from evidence the prior statements of a witness who c[p.]stories.”163 But in Dutton v. Evans,164 the Court upheld the use as substantive evidence at trial of a statement made by a witness whom the prosecution could have produced but did not. Presentation of a statement by a witness who is under oath, in the presence of the jury, and subject to cross–examination by the defendant is only one way of complying with the Confrontation Clause, four Justices concluded. Thus, at least in the absence of prosecutorial misconduct or negligence and where the evidence is not “crucial” or “devastating,” the Confrontation Clause is satisfied if the circumstances of presentation of out–of–court statements are such that “the trier of fact [has] a satisfactory basis for evaluating the truth of the [hearsay] statement,” and this is to be ascertained in each case by focusing on the reliability of the proffered hearsay statement, that is, by an inquiry into the likelihood that cross–examination of the declarant at trial could successfully call into question the declaration’s apparent meaning or the declarant’s sincerity, per165


In Ohio v. Roberts,166 the Court explained that it had construed the clause “in two separate ways to restrict the range of admissible hearsay.” First, there is a rule of “necessity,” under which in the usual case “the prosecution must either produce, or demonstrate the unavailability of, the declarant whose statement it wishes to use against the defendant.” Second, “once a witness is shown to be unavailable . . . , the Clause countenances only hearsay marked with such trustworthiness that ‘there is no material departure from the reason of the general rule.”’167 That is, if the hearsay declarant is not present for cross–examination at trial, the “statement is admissible only if it bears adequate ‘indicia of reliability.’ Reliability can be inferred without more in a case where the evidence falls within a firmly rooted hearsay exception. In other cases, the evidence must be excluded, at least absent a showing of particularized guarantees of trustworthiness.”168

Roberts was narrowed in United States v. Inadi,169 holding that the rule of “necessity” is confined to use of testimony from a prior judicial proceeding, and is inapplicable to co–conspirators’ out– of–court statements. The latter—at least those “made while the conspiracy is in progress”—have “independent evidentiary significance of [their] own”; hence in–court testimony is not a necessary or valid substitute.170 Similarly, evidence embraced within such firmly rooted exceptions to the hearsay rule as those for spontaneous declarations and statements made for medical treatment” is not barred from trial by the Confrontation Clause.171 Particularized guarantees of trustworthiness inherent in the circumstances under which a statement is made must be shown for admission of other hearsay evidence not covered by a “firmly rooted exception;” evidence tending to corroborate the truthfulness of a statement may not be relied upon as a bootstrap.172


Contrasting approaches to the Confrontation Clause were taken by the Court in two cases involving state efforts to protect child sex crime victims from trauma while testifying. In Coy v. Iowa,173 the Court held that the right of confrontation is violated by a procedure, authorized by statute, placing a one–way screen between complaining child witnesses and the defendant, thereby sparing the witnesses from viewing the defendant. This conclusion was reached even though the witnesses could be viewed by the defendant’s counsel and by the judge and jury, even though the right of cross–examination was in no way limited, and even though the state asserted a strong interest in protecting child sex–abuse victims from further trauma.174 The Court’s opinion by Justice Scalia declared that a defendant’s right during his trial to face–to–face confrontation with his accusers derives from “the irreducible literal meaning of the clause,” and traces “to the beginnings of Western legal culture.”175 Squarely rejecting the Wigmore view “that the only essential interest preserved by the right was cross–examination,176 the Court emphasized the importance of face– to–face confrontation in eliciting truthful testimony.

Coy’s interpretation of the Clause, though not its result, was rejected in Maryland v. Craig.177 In Craig the Court upheld Maryland’s use of one–way, closed circuit television to protect a child witness in a sex crime from viewing the defendant. As in Coy, procedural protections other than confrontation were afforded: the child witness must testify under oath, is subject to cross examination, and is viewed by the judge, jury, and defendant. The critical factual difference between the two cases was that Maryland required a case–specific finding that the child witness would be traumatized by presence of the defendant, while the Iowa procedures struck down in Coy rested on a statutory presumption of trauma. But the difference in approach is explained by the fact that Justice O’Connor’s views, expressed in a concurring opinion in Coy, became the opinion of the Court in Craig.178 Beginning with the propo[p.1428]sition that the Confrontation Clause does not, as evidenced by hearsay exceptions, grant an absolute right to face–to–face confrontation, the Court in Craig described the Clause as “reflect[ing] a preference for face–to–face confrontation.”179 This preference can be overcome “only where denial of such confrontation is necessary to further an important public policy and only where the reliability of the testimony is otherwise assured.”180 Relying on the traditional and “transcendent” state interest in protecting the welfare of children, on the significant number of state laws designed to protect child witnesses, and on “the growing body of academic literature documenting the psychological trauma suffered by child abuse victims,”181 the Court found a state interest sufficiently important to outweigh a defendant’s right to face–to–face confrontation. Reliability of the testimony was assured by the “rigorous adversarial testing [that] preserves the essence of effective confrontation.”182 All of this, of course, would have led to a different result in Coy as well, but Coy was distinguished with the caveat that “[t]he requisite finding of necessity must of course be a case–specific one;” Maryland’s required finding that a child witness would suffer “serious emotional distress” if not protected was clearly adequate for this purpose.183

In another case involving child sex crime victims, the Court held that there is no right of face–to–face confrontation at an in– chambers hearing to determine the competency of a child victim to testify, since the defendant’s attorney participated in the hearing, and since the procedures allowed “full and effective” opportunity to cross–examine the witness at trial and request reconsideration of the competency ruling.184 And there is no absolute right to confront witnesses with relevant evidence impeaching those witnesses; failure to comply with a rape shield law’s notice requirement can validly preclude introduction of evidence relating to a witness’s prior sexual history.185


145 Mattox v. United States, 156 U.S. 237, 242–43 (1895) .
146 Kirby v. United States, 174 U.S. 47, 55, 56 (1899) . Cf. Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400, 404–05 (1965) . The right may be waived but it must be a knowing, intelligent waiver uncoerced from defendant. Brookhart v. Janis, 384 U.S. 1 (1966) .
147 Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400 (1965) (overruling West v. Louisiana, 194 U.S. 258 (1904) ); see also Stein v. New York, 346 U.S. 156, 195–96 (1953) .
148 Hearsay is the prior out–of–court statements of a person, offered affirmatively for the truth of the matters asserted, presented at trial either orally by another person or in written form. Hickory v. United States, 151 U.S. 303, 309 (1894) ; Southern Ry. v. Gray, 241 U.S. 333, 337 (1916) ; Bridges v. Wixon, 326 U.S. 135 (1945) .
149 Thus, while it had concluded that the co–conspirator exception to the hearsay rule was consistent with the Confrontation Clause, Delaney v. United States, 263 U.S. 586, 590 (1924) , the Court’s formulation of the exception and its limitations was pursuant to its supervisory powers. Lutwak v. United States, 344 U.S. 604 (1953) ; Krulewitch v. United States, 336 U.S. 440 (1949) .
150 Motes v. United States, 178 U.S. 458 (1900) .
151 Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879) .
152 Kirby v. United States, 174 U.S. 47, 61 (1899) ; Robertson v. Baldwin, 165 U.S. 275, 282 (1897) .
153 Mattox v. United States, 156 U.S. 237, 240 (1895) .
154 Kirby v. United States, 174 U.S. 47 (1899) , and Dowdell v. United States, 221 U.S. 325 (1911) , recognized the inapplicability of the clause to the admission of documentary evidence to establish collateral facts, admissible under the common law, to permit certification as an additional record to the appellate court of the events of the trial.
155 Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400, 406–07 (1965) ; Douglas v. Alabama, 380 U.S. 415, 418 (1965) . “The right to confrontation is basically a trial right. It includes both the opportunity to cross– examine and the occasion for the jury to weigh the demeanor of the witness.” Barber v. Page, 390 U.S. 719, 725 (1968) . Unjustified limitation of defendant’s right to cross–examine witnesses presented against him at trial may constitute a confrontation clause violation. Smith v. Illinois, 390 U.S. 129 (1968) , or a denial of due process, Alford v. United States, 282 U.S. 687 (1931) ; and In re Oliver, 333 U.S. 257 (1948) .
156 380 U.S. 400 (1965) . Justices Harlan and Stewart concurred on due process grounds, rejecting the “incorporation” holding. Id. at 408, 409. See also Barber v. Page, 390 U.S. 719 (1968) , in which the Court refused to permit the State to use the preliminary hearing testimony of a witness in a federal prison in another State at the time of trial. The Court acknowledged the hearsay exception permitting the use of such evidence when a witness was unavailable but refused to find him “unavailable” when the State had made no effort to procure him; Mancusi v. Stubbs, 408 U.S. 204 (1972) , in which the Court permitted the State to assume the unavailability of a witness because he now resided in Sweden and to use the transcript of the witness’ testimony at a former trial.
157 380 U.S. 415 (1965) . See also Smith v. Illinois, 390 U.S. 129 (1968) (informer as prosecution witness permitted to identify himself by alias and to conceal his true name and address; Confrontation Clause violated because defense could not effectively cross–examine); Davis v. Alaska, 415 U.S. 308 (1974) (state law prohibiting disclosure of identity of juvenile offenders could not be applied to preclude cross–examination of witness about his juvenile record when object was to allege possible bias on part of witness). Cf. Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284 (1973) ; United States v. Nobles, 422 U.S. 233, 240–41 (1975) .
158 391 U.S. 123 (1968) . The Court in this case equated confrontation with the hearsay rule, first emphasizing “that the hearsay statement inculpating petitioner was clearly inadmissible against him under traditional rules of evidence”, id. at 128 n.3, and then observing that “[t]he reason for excluding this evidence as an evidentiary matter also requires its exclusion as a constitutional matter.” Id. at 136 n.12 (emphasis by Court). Bruton was applied retroactively in a state case in Roberts v. Russell, 392 U.S. 293 (1968) . Where, however, the codefendant takes the stand in his own defense, denies making the alleged out–of–court statement implicating defendant, and proceeds to testify favorably to the defendant concerning the underlying facts, the defendant has not been denied his right of confrontation under Bruton, Nelson v. O’Neil, 402 U.S. 622 (1971) . In two cases, violations of the rule in Bruton have been held to be “harmless error” in the light of the overwhelming amount of legally admitted evidence supporting conviction. Harrington v. California, 395 U.S. 250 (1969) ; Schneble v. Florida, 405 U.S. 427 (1972) . Bruton was held inapplicable, however, when the nontestifying codefendant’s confession was redacted to omit any reference to the defendant, and was circumstantially incriminating only as the result of other evidence properly introduced. Richardson v. Marsh, 481 U.S. 200 (1987) .

Supplement: [P. 1423, add to n.158:]

Bruton was held applicable, however, where a blank space or the word “deleted” is substituted for the defendant’s name in a co–defendant’s confession, making such confession incriminating of the defendant on its face. Gray v. Maryland, 523 U.S. 185 (1998) .

159 In Parker v. Randolph, 442 U.S. 62 (1979) , the Court was evenly divided on the question whether interlocking confessions may be admitted without violating the clause. Four Justices held that admission of such confessions is proper, even though neither defendant testifies, if the judge gives the jury a limiting instruction. Four Justices held that a harmless error analysis should be applied, although they then divided over its meaning in this case. The former approach was rejected in favor of the latter in Cruz v. New York, 481 U.S. 186 (1987) . The appropriate focus is on reliability, the Court indicated, and “the defendant’s confession may be considered at trial in assessing whether his codefendant’s statements are supported by sufficient ‘indicia of reliability’ to be directly admissible against him (assuming the ‘unavailability of the codefendant’ despite the lack of opportunity for cross–examination.” 481U.S. at 193–94 481U.S. at 193–94.
160 Lee v. Illinois, 476 U.S. 530, 541 (1986) .

Supplement: [P. 1423, add to n.160:]

Lilly v. Virginia, 527 U.S. 116 (1999) .

161 California v. Green, 399 U.S. 149, 155–56 (1970) ; Dutton v. Evans, 400 U.S. 74, 80–86 (1970) . Compare id. at 93, 94, 95 (Justice Harlan concurring), with id. at 100, 105 n.7 (Justice Marshall dissenting). See also United States v. Inadi, 475 U.S. 387 (1986) .
162 399 U.S. 149 (1970) .
163 Id. at 164. Justice Brennan dissented. Id. at 189. See also Nelson v. O’Neil, 402 U.S. 622 (1971) . “The Confrontation Clause includes no guarantee that every witness called by the prosecution will refrain from giving testimony that is marred by forgetfulness, confusion, or evasion. To the contrary, the Confrontation Clause is generally satisfied when the defense is given a full and fair opportunity to probe and expose these infirmities through cross– examination.” Delaware v. Fensterer, 474 U.S. 15, 21–22 (1985) (per curiam) (expert witness testified as to conclusion, but could not remember basis for conclusion). See also United States v. Owens, 484 U.S. 554 (1988) (testimony as to previous, out–of–court identification statement is not barred by witness’ inability, due to memory loss, to explain the basis for his identification).
164 400 U.S. 74 (1970) . The statement was made by an alleged co–conspirator of the defendant on trial and was admissible under the co–conspirator exception to the hearsay rule permitting the use of a declaration by one conspirator against all his fellow conspirators. The state rule permitted the use of a statement made during the concealment stage of the conspiracy while the federal rule permitted use of a statement made only in the course of and in furtherance of the conspiracy. Id. at 78, 81–82.
165 Id. at 86–89. The quoted phrase is at 89, (quoting California v. Green, 399 U.S. 149, 161 (1970) ). Justice Harlan concurred to carry the case, on the view that (1) the Confrontation Clause requires only that any testimony actually given at trial must be subject to cross–examination, but (2) in the absence of countervailing circumstances introduction of prior recorded testimony—“trial by affidavit”—would violate the clause. Id. at 93, 95, 97. Justices Marshall, Black, Douglas, and Brennan dissented, id. at 100, arguing for adoption of a rule that: “The incriminatory extrajudicial statement of an alleged accomplice is so inherently prejudicial that it cannot be introduced unless there is an opportunity to cross–examine the declarant, whether or not his statement falls within a genuine exception to the hearsay rule.” Id. at 110–11. The Clause protects defendants against use of substantive evidence against them, but does not bar rebuttal of the defendant’s own testimony. Tennessee v. Street, 471 U.S. 409 (1985) (use of accomplice’s confession not to establish facts as to defendant’s participation in the crime, but instead to support officer’s rebuttal of defendant’s testimony as to circumstances of defendant’s confession; presence of officer assured right of cross–examination).
166 448 U.S. 56 (1980) . The witness was absent from home and her parents testified they did not know where she was or how to get in touch with her. The State’s sole effort to locate her was to deliver a series of subpoenas to her parents’ home. Over the objection of three dissenters, the Court held this to be an adequate basis to demonstrate her unavailability. Id. at 74–77.
167 Id. at 65 (quoting Snyder v. Massachusetts, 291 U.S. 97, 107 (1934) ).
168 Id. at 66. Applying Roberts, the Court held that the fact that defendant’s and codefendant’s confessions “interlocked” on a number of points was not a sufficient indicium of reliability, since the confessions diverged on the critical issues of the respective roles of the two defendants. Lee v. Illinois, 476 U.S. 530 (1986) .
169 475 U.S. 387 (1986) .
170 Id. at 394–95.
171 White v. Illinois, 112S. Ct. 736, 743 (1992).
172 Idaho v. Wright, 497 U.S. 805, 822–23 (1990) (insufficient evidence of trustworthiness of statements made by child sex crime victim to her pediatrician; statements were admitted under a “residual” hearsay exception rather than under a firmly rooted exception).
173 487 U.S. 1012 (1988) .
174 On this latter point, the Court indicated that only “individualized findings,” rather than statutory presumption, could suffice to create an exception to the rule. 487U.S. at 1021 487U.S. at 1021.
175 Id. at 1015, 1021 (1988).
176 Id. at 1018 n.2.
177 497 U.S. 836 (1990) .
178 Coy was decided by a 6–2 vote. Justice Scalia’s opinion of the Court was joined by Justices Brennan, White, Marshall, Stevens, and O’Connor; Justice O’Connor’s separate concurring opinion was joined by Justice White; Justice Blackmun’s dissenting opinion was joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist; and Justice Kennedy did not participate. In Craig, a 5–4 decision, Justice O’Connor’s opinion of the Court was joined by the two Coy dissenters and by Justices White and Kennedy. Justice Scalia’s dissent was joined by Justices Brennan, Marshall, and Stevens.
179 497U.S. at 849 497U.S. at 849 (emphasis original).
180 Id. at 850. Dissenting Justice Scalia objected that face– to–face confrontation “is not a preference ‘reflected’ by the Confrontation Clause [but rather] a constitutional right unqualifiedly guaranteed,” and that the Court “has applied ‘interest–balancing’ analysis where the text of the Constitution simply does not permit it.” Id. at 863, 870.
181 Id. at 855.
182 Id. at 857.
183 Id. at 855.
184 Kentucky v. Stincer, 482 U.S. 730, 744 (1987) .
185 Michigan v. Lucas, 500 U.S. 145 (1991) .

Supplement Footnotes

8 Portuondo v. Agard, 120 S. Ct. 1119 (2000).
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