Brief Fact Summary. Petitioner’s wife gave a tape-recorded description of the stabbing her husband was involved in. The tape was played at trial, but she did not testify.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. “[W]here testimonial statements are at issue, the only indicium of reliability sufficient to satisfy constitutional demands is confrontation.”
Where nontestimonial hearsay is at issue, it is wholly consistent with the Framers design to afford the States flexibility in their development of hearsay law, as would an approach that exempted such statements from Confrontation Clause scrutiny altogether.View Full Point of Law
Issue. “[W]hether the State’s use of Sylvia’s statement violated the Confrontation Clause.”
Held. Yes. After examine the history behind the Confrontation Clause, the Supreme Court arrived at two conclusions about it. “First, the principal evil at which the Confrontation Clause was directed was the civil-law mode of criminal procedure, and particularly its use of ex parte examinations as evidence against the accused.” Based on this, the Court rejected “the view that the Confrontation Clause applies of its own force only to in-court testimony, and that its application to out-of-court statements introduced at trial depends upon “the law of Evidence for the time being.”
Second, “that the Framers would not have allowed admission of testimonial statements of a witness who did not appear at trial unless he was unavailable to testify, and the defendant had had a prior opportunity for cross-examination.”
It concluded that “[i]n this case, the State admitted Sylvia’s testimonial statement against petitioner, despite the fact that he had no opportunity to cross-examine her. That alone is sufficient to make out a violation of the Sixth Amendment.” In so doing, it overruled Ohio v. Roberts, which “conditioned the admissibility of all hearsay evidence on whether it falls under a ‘firmly rooted hearsay exception’ or bears ‘particularized guarantees of trustworthiness.’”
Concurrence. Justice Rehnquist, joined by Justice O’Connor, disagreed with the Court’s decision to overturn Roberts.
Discussion. “Where testimonial evidence is at issue, however, the Sixth Amendment demands what the common law required: unavailability and a prior opportunity for cross-examination.”