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7. The Supreme Court and reluctant witnesses: Crawford v. Washington.
American Psychological Association (2004)
  • Thomas D. Lyon, University of Southern California
A recent U.S. Supreme Court case is sure to have a major impact on the prosecution of family violence cases in which the victim fails to testify at trial.  A number of states have special hearsay exceptions for statements from victims of spouse abuse and child abuse.  Those exceptions often allow the statements into evidence even when the victim does not testify (usually with additional requirements, such as corroborative evidence or a finding that the statement has "indicia of reliability").  The U.S. Supreme Court has recently held that if the victim does not testify, "testimonial" hearsay is inadmissible unless the defendant had an opportunity to cross-examine the victim, regardless of the quality of the statement. Without this opportunity to cross-examine, the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him is violated. What counts as "testimonial" is somewhat unclear - it definitely includes formal statements made to the police at the stationhouse, but whether it includes, for example, 911 calls or police interviews at the scene of the crime has not been determined. I believe it is likely to include police and social work interviews with child witnesses taken before trial. Because the rule will bar out-of-court statements regardless of the quality of the statement, it won't matter if the interview was videotaped, if the questions were open-ended, or if the child's report was clear and elaborated. If the child doesn't testify, then the statement will be inadmissible.
  • child witness,
  • child abuse,
  • Crawford v. Washington,
  • reluctant witnesses,
  • child neglect
Publication Date
September, 2004
Citation Information
Lyon, T. D. (2004, Spring). The Supreme Court and reluctant witnesses: Crawford v. Washington. Section on Child Maltreatment Newsletter, Division 37, American Psychological Association, 9(1), 1-2.