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Right To Confrontation

While the word “confrontation” is often given a negative connotation, the Sixth Amendment attaches a right to that same word. The Sixth Amendment guarantees every defendant the right to confront witnesses against him. This right includes the right to confront the prosecution’s witnesses and the right to be present at trial. Generally, testimonial statements of a witness not at trial are admissible only if the declarant is unavailable and the defendant had no prior opportunity for cross-examination. This is because testimonial out-of-court statements violate the confrontation clause. 

Testimonial Statements

A testimonial statement is a statement made for the primary purpose of proving or establishing facts to the current prosecution. Essentially, this includes any statement that is made in preparation for trial. For example, a statement made to the police from a witness of a battery would be considered testimonial. As a lawyer, like a trial lawyer understands, statements are nontestimonial when they are made within the course of a police investigation under circumstances that objectively indicate that the primary purpose of making the statement is to enable police assistance in an ongoing emergency. For example, a call to a 911 operator for help due to an ongoing assault would be considered nontestimonial. 

There are two Supreme Court cases that further extend this right to confrontation. For example, the right to confrontation requires a lab technician who conducts a forensics test to testify. Additionally, when an expert relies on an out-of-court statement in writing an expert report, that expert must testify about their findings. 

How The Right To Confrontation Is Limited

While the right to confrontation is guaranteed, it can be limited in certain situations. For example, a trial court judge may exercise its reasonable discretion in limiting the scope of the cross-examination and protecting witnesses from questioning that could be considered harassment. Additionally, in certain child sexual abuse matters, if a judge determines that the child should be protected from being questioned or even seeing the defendant to prevent emotional distress or further trauma, the judge can sequester the defendant’s right to confrontation. 

Understanding The Purposes

The confrontation clause was written into the constitution to prevent the conviction of a defendant on written or oral statements without that defendant having an opportunity to face his or her accusers and question the honesty and truthfulness of their testimony. The Supreme Court has established three other purposes for the clause: (1) to ensure that witnesses would testify under oath and understand the serious nature of the trial process; (2) to allow the accused to cross-examine witnesses who testify against him; and (3) to allow jurors to assess the credibility of a witness by observing that witness’s behavior.

Finding Help You Need

Thanks to the team at Eglet Adams for their insight on the right to confrontation. If you are hoping to speak with a lawyer about your case and would like to set up a consultation, call your local law firm for help. Facing this head-on may seem impossible, but a lawyer can guide you through what steps you need to take.