NOTE: Where it is feasible, a syllabus (headnote) will be released, as is being done in connection with this case, at the time the opinion is issued. The syllabus constitutes no part of the opinion of the Court but has been prepared by the Reporter of Decisions for the convenience of the reader. See United States v. Detroit Lumber Co., 200 U.S. 321, 337.
MARYLAND v. CRAIG
certiorari to the court of appeals of maryland
Respondent Craig was tried in a Maryland court on several charges related to her alleged sexual abuse of a six-year-old child. Before the trial began, the State sought to invoke a state statutory procedure permitting a judge to receive, by one-way closed circuit television, the testimony of an alleged child abuse victim upon determining that the child's courtroom testimony would result in the child suffering serious emotional distress, such that he or she could not reasonably communicate. If the procedure is invoked, the child, prosecutor, and defense counsel withdraw to another room, where the child is examined and cross-examined; the judge, jury, and defendant remain in the courtroom, where the testimony is displayed. Although the child cannot see the defendant, the defendant remains in electronic communication with counsel, and objections may be made and ruled on as if the witness were in the courtroom. The court rejected Craig's objection that the procedure's use violates the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment, ruling that Craig retained the essence of the right to confrontation. Based on expert testimony, the court also found that the alleged victim and other allegedly abused children who were witnesses would suffer serious emotional distress if they were required to testify in the courtroom, such that each would be unable to communicate. Finding that the children were competent to testify, the court permitted testimony under the procedure, and Craig was convicted. The State Court of Special Appeals affirmed, but the State Court of Appeals reversed. Although it rejected Craig's argument that the Clause requires in all cases a face-to-face courtroom encounter between the accused and accusers, it found that the State's showing was insufficient to reach the high threshold required by Coy v. Iowa, 487 U.S. 1012, before the procedure could be invoked. The court held that the procedure usually cannot be invoked unless the child initially is questioned in the defendant's presence and that, before using the one-way television procedure, the trial court must determine whether a child would suffer severe emotional distress if he or she were to testify by two-way television.
1. The Confrontation Clause does not guarantee criminal defendants an absolute right to a face-to-face meeting with the witnesses against them at trial. The Clause's central purpose, to ensure the reliability of the evidence against a defendant by subjecting it to rigorous testing in an adversary proceeding before the trier of fact, is served by the combined effects of the elements of confrontation: physical presence, oath, cross-examination, and observation of demeanor by the trier of fact. Although face-to-face confrontation forms the core of the Clause's values, it is not an indispensable element of the confrontation right. If it were, the Clause would abrogate virtually every hearsay exception, a result long rejected as unintended and too extreme, Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U.S. 56, 63. Accordingly, the Clause must be interpreted in a manner sensitive to its purpose and to the necessities of trial and the adversary process. See, e.g., Kirby v. United States, 174 U.S. 470. Nonetheless, the right to confront accusatory witnesses may be satisfied absent a physical, face-to-face confrontation at trial only where denial of such confrontation is necessary to further an important public policy and only where the testimony's reliability is otherwise assured. Coy, supra, at 1021. Pp. 5-11.
2. Maryland's interest in protecting child witnesses from the trauma of testifying in a child abuse case is sufficiently important to justify the use of its special procedure, provided that the State makes an adequate showing of necessity in an individual case. Pp. 12-18.
(a) While Maryland's procedure prevents the child from seeing the defendant, it preserves the other elements of confrontation and, thus, adequately ensures that the testimony is both reliable and subject to rigorous adversarial testing in a manner functionally equivalent to that accorded live, in-person testimony. These assurances are far greater than those required for the admission of hearsay statements. Thus, the use of the one-way closed circuit television procedure, where it is necessary to further an important state interest, does not impinge upon the Confrontation Clause's truth-seeking or symbolic purposes. Pp. 12-13.
(b) A State's interest in the physical and psychological well-being of child abuse victims may be sufficiently important to outweigh, at least in some cases, a defendant's right to face his or her accusers in court. The fact that most States have enacted similar statutes attests to widespread belief in such a public policy's importance, and this Court has previously recognized that States have a compelling interest in protecting minor victims of sex crimes from further trauma and embarrassment, see, e.g., Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court, 457 U.S. 596, 607. The Maryland Legislature's considered judgment regarding the importance of its interest will not be second-guessed, given the State's traditional and transcendent interest in protecting the welfare of children and the growing body of academic literature documenting the psychological trauma suffered by child abuse victims who must testify in court. Pp. 13-16.
(c) The requisite necessity finding must be case specific. The trial court must hear evidence and determine whether the procedure's use is necessary to protect the particular child witness' welfare; find that the child would be traumatized, not by the courtroom generally, but by the defendant's presence; and find that the emotional distress suffered by the child in the defendant's presence is more than de minimis. Without determining the minimum showing of emotional trauma required for the use of a special procedure, the Maryland statute, which requires a determination that the child will suffer serious emotional distress such that the child cannot reasonably communicate, clearly suffices to meet constitutional standards. Pp. 16-18.
(d) Since there is no dispute that, here, the children testified under oath, were subject to full cross-examination, and were able to be observed by the judge, jury, and defendant as they testified, admitting their testimony is consonant with the Confrontation Clause, provided that a proper necessity finding has been made. P. 18.
3. The Court of Appeals erred to the extent that it may have rested its conclusion that the trial court did not make the requisite necessity finding on the lower court's failure to observe the children's behavior in the defendant's presence and its failure to explore less restrictive alternatives to the one-way television procedure. While such evidentiary requirements could strengthen the grounds for the use of protective measures, only a case-specific necessity finding is required. This Court will not establish, as a matter of federal constitutional law, such categorical evidentiary prerequisites for the use of the one-way procedure. Pp. 18-21.
316 Md. 551, 560 A. 2d 1120, vacated and remanded.
O'Connor, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Rehnquist, C.J., and White, Blackmun, and Kennedy, JJ., joined. Scalia, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Brennan, Marshall, and Stevens, JJ., joined.