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The Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause: Defining Testimonial


Ohio v. Darius Clark

576 U.S. __ (2015)

United States Supreme Court

Decided June 18, 2015

Blog by: Stephen N. Preziosi Esq., Criminal Appeals Lawyer

United States Supreme Court: This is the latest of the Supreme Courts progeny concerning Crawford v. Washington and the Sixth Amendments confrontation clause. An out-of-court statement made to a person or persons other than a law enforcement officer, whose primary purpose is not intended to create trial testimony, does not fall within the Sixth Amendments Confrontation Clause. Such a statement is admissible as per the State and Federal rules of evidence. Mandatory reporting statutes alone cannot convert a conversation between a concerned teacher and her student into a law enforcement mission aimed primarily at gathering evidence for a prosecution.

Issue: Whether a statement to persons other than law enforcement officers which is not intended to create a trial testimony is subject to the Confrontation Clause?

Summary: An Ohio trial court tried the respondent Darius Clark for child abuse relying on the out-of-court statements made by the boy (victim) to his preschool teachers. The respondent moved to exclude such out-of-court statement under the Sixth Amendments Confrontation Clause. The trial court rejected the motion and the grand Jury found the respondent guilty on all but one counts leading to the respondents conviction. The Ohio Court of Appeals reversed the trial courts order on the ground that such out-of-court statements violated the Confrontation Clause, which the Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed. The State of Ohio appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States and it granted Certiorari. The Supreme Court of United States reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Ohio and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Holding: The Supreme Court of the United States held that the boys out-of-court statements to his preschool teachers were not testimonial, so such statements introduced at trial do not violate the Sixth Amendments Confrontation Clause.

Defining Testimonial:

A statement qualifies as testimonial if the primary purpose of the conversation was to create a an out of court substitute for trial testimony. In making that primary purpose determination courts must consider all of the relevant circumstances. Where no such primary purpose exists, the admissibility of a statement is the concern of state and federal rules of evidence, no the confrontation clause.

Facts: The respondent, Darius Clark lived in Cleveland, Ohio, with his girlfriend and her two children, a 3-year-old boy, and an 18-month?s old girl. The respondent physically abused the boy, which the preschool teachers discovered. The boy identified the respondent as his abuser, but the respondent denied any wrong doing. The State of Ohio tried the respondent for felonious assault, domestic violence etc. At the trial, the State of Ohio introduced the boys statements (out-of-court statements) made to the preschool teachers as evidence of the respondents guilt. However the boy did not testify at trial. The respondent moved to exclude the out-of-court statements under the Confrontation Clause. The trial court denied the motion.

Legal Analysis: The Supreme Court of the United States noted that a statement cannot fall within the Confrontation Clause unless its primary pur?pose was testimonial {[Michigan v. Bryant, 562 U.S. 344 (2011)], [Guiles v. California, 554 U.S. 353 (2008)], [Hammon v. Indiana, 547 U.S. 813 (2006)], [Crawford v Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004)]. Where no such primary purpose exists, the admissibility of a statement is the concern of State and Federal Rules of Evidence, not the Confrontation Clause. At the same time, Confrontation Clause does not prohibit the introduction of out-of-court statements that would have been admissible in a criminal case at the time of the founding. Thus, the primary purpose test is a necessary but not always sufficient condition for the exclusion of out-of-court statements under the Confronta?tion Clause.

Applying the law in the case at bar, the Supreme Court of United States held that the boys statement made to the preschool teachers (who are not law enforcement officers) were not primarily made to create evidence for the respondents prosecution but to address an ongoing emergency involving suspected child abuse. Going further the Supreme Court of United States noted that a mandatory reporting statute alone cannot convert a conversation between a concerned teacher and her student into a law enforcement mission aimed primarily at gathering evidence for a prosecution. Thus, introduction of such out-of-court statements did not violate the Confrontation Clause.

With this ruling, the Supreme Court of United States reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Ohio and remand the case for further proceedings.

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