Confrontation Clause Cases (Part 9)

by | May 11, 2024 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Justice Scalia also wrote for an 8-1 majority of the United States Supreme Court in Davis v. Washington, a 2006 case that addressed the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause.

He held in relevant part: In No. 05–5224, a 911 operator ascertained from Michelle McCottry that she had been assaulted by her former boyfriend, petitioner Davis, who had just fled the scene. McCottry did not testify at Davis’s trial for felony violation of a domestic no-contact order, but the court admitted the 911 recording despite Davis’s objection, which he based on the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause. He was convicted. The Washington Court of Appeals affirmed, as did the State Supreme Court, which concluded that, inter alia, the portion of the 911 conversation in which McCottry identified Davis as her assailant was not testimonial.

In No. 05–5705, when police responded to a reported domestic disturbance at the home of Amy and Hershel Hammon, Amy told them that nothing was wrong, but gave them permission to enter. Once inside, one officer kept petitioner Hershel in the kitchen while the other interviewed Amy elsewhere and had her complete and sign a battery affidavit. Amy did not appear at Hershel’s bench trial for, inter alia, domestic battery, but her affidavit and testimony from the officer who questioned her were admitted over Hershel’s objection that he had no opportunity to cross-examine her. Hershel was convicted, and the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in relevant part. The State Supreme Court also affirmed, concluding that, although Amy’s affidavit was testimonial and wrongly admitted, it was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Confrontation Clause bars “admission of testimonial statements of a witness who did not appear at trial unless he was unavailable to testify, and the defendant had a prior opportunity for cross-examination.” Crawford v. Washington. These cases require the Court to determine which police “interrogations” produce statements that fall within this prohibition. Without attempting to produce an exhaustive classification of all conceivable statements as either testimonial or nontestimonial, it suffices to decide the present cases to hold that statements are nontestimonial when made during police interrogation under circumstances objectively indicating that the primary purpose of interrogation is to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency. They are testimonial when the circumstances objectively indicate that there is no such ongoing emergency, and that the primary purpose of the interrogation is to establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution.

An interesting sub-issue concerns the prior opportunity to cross-examine and the permitted scope of that cross-examination. A pretrial testimonial hearing is a common example for a prior opportunity for cross-examination. However, depending on the nature of the hearing, the scope of cross-examination could be limited.