What Does the Confrontation Clause Mean for a Defendant?

The Confrontation Clause if a constitutional provision that entitled a defendant to confront any witnesses that may speak against him.  Found in the Sixth Amendment, it provides that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”

The Fourteenth Amendment makes this constitutional amendment applicable to the states.  The confrontation clause guarantees criminal defendants the opportunity to face the prosecution’s witnesses in the case against them and dispute the witnesses’ testimony. This guarantee applies to both statements made in court and statements made outside of court that are offered as evidence during trial.

In practice, the Confrontation operates to ensure that only such evidence is admitted in a criminal trial only when the defendant has an opportunity to cross-examine the proposed witness.  There is a test to determine when the Confrontation Clause is triggered, developed through case law brought to the United State Supreme Court.

Most recently, the test was developed in Davis v. Washingtonthe Supreme Court determined that the Confrontation Clause determined that the difference between testimonial and nontestimonial evidence as:

“Statements are nontestimonial when made in the course of police interrogation under circumstances objectively indicating that the primary purpose of the interrogation is to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency. They are testimonial when the circumstances indicate that there is no ongoing emergency, and that the primary purpose of the interrogation is to establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution. ”

There are several factors that determine whether evidence is testimonial or not, including:  1) whether the statement describes past events or events as they are happening, 2) whether the purpose of the statement is to assist in investigation of a crime or, on the other hand, provide information relevant to some other purpose, 3) the level of formality of the exchange in which the statement is made.

The effect of testimonial evidence being offered against a defendant who is unable to cross-examine the witness is the evidence is inadmissible.  Even if the evidence is otherwise proper under the law and court rules, the evidence will not be allowed on constitutional grounds.

This principle applies to technical evidence supplied during a criminal trial, however, the Supreme Court has passed a rather muddled opinion, in the words of the New York Times that reported on the issue, that permitted evidence of a scientific account of DNA evidence by a witness who had no knowledge about the type of analysis used to determine the DNA sample at issue in the case belonged to the defendant.  In the Williams v. Illinois decision, the Court detracts from previous precedent that indicates the Confrontation Clause is triggered when an analyst is testifying about specific test used to determine forensic evidence against a defendant because an analyst can make mistakes.

Regardless of what you think you know about the law, the Constitution, or even your own case, a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney will ensure your freedom is protected by advancing the most sophisticated and current legal arguments at his disposal.

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