U.S. Supreme Court : Confrontation Clause in Domestic Violence Cases

DAVIS v. WASHINGTON (Nos. 05-5224 and 05-5705) together with No. 05-5705, Hammon v. Indiana, on certiorari to the Supreme Court of Indiana, was handed down yesterday. The link is to the syllabus, which states the holding of the opinion by Justice Scalia is as follows:

1. 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, 541 U. S. 36 . 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 in the course of 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. Pp. 6–7.

2. McCottry’s statements identifying Davis as her assailant were not testimonial. Pp. 8–14.

(a) This case requires the Court to decide whether the Confrontation Clause applies only to testimonial hearsay, and, if so, whether the 911 recording qualifies. Crawford suggested the answer to the first question, noting that “the Confrontation Clause … applies to ‘witnesses’ against the accused—in other words, those who ‘bear testimony.’ ” Only “testimonial statements” cause a declarant to be a witness. The Court is unaware of any early American case invoking the Confrontation Clause or the common-law right to confrontation that did not involve testimony as thus defined. Well into the 20th century, this Court’s jurisprudence was carefully applied only in the testimonial context, and its later cases never in practice dispensed with the Confrontation Clause requirements of unavailability and prior cross-examination in cases involving testimonial hearsay. Pp. 8–11.

(b) The question in Davis, therefore,is whether, objectively considered, the interrogation during the 911 callproduced testimonial statements. In contrast to Crawford, where the interrogation took place at a police station and was directed solely at establishing a past crime, a 911 call is ordinarily designed primarily to describe current circumstances requiring police assistance. The difference is apparent here. McCottry was speaking of events as they were actually happening, while Crawford’s interrogation took place hours after the events occurred. Moreover, McCottry was facing an ongoing emergency. Further, the statements elicited were necessary to enable the police to resolve the present emergency rather than simply to learn what had happened in the past. Finally, the difference in the level of formality is striking. Crawford calmly answered questions at a station house, with an officer-interrogator taping and taking notes, while McCottry’s frantic answers were provided over the phone, in an environment that was not tranquil, or even safe. Thus, the circumstances of her interrogation objectively indicate that its primary purpose was to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency. She was not acting as a witness or testifying. Pp. 11–14.

3. Amy Hammon’s statements were testimonial. They were not much different from those in Crawford. It is clear from the circumstances that Amy’s interrogation was part of an investigation into possibly criminal past conduct. There was no emergency in progress, she told the police when they arrived that things were fine, and the officer questioning her was seeking to determine not what was happening but what had happened. Objectively viewed, the primary, if not sole, purpose of the investigation was to investigate a possible crime. While the formal features of Crawford’s interrogation strengthened her statements’ testimonial aspect, such features were not essential to the point. In both cases, the declarants were separated from the defendants, the statements recounted how potentially criminal past events began and progressed, and the interrogation took place some time after the events were over. For the same reasons the comparison to Crawford is compelling, the comparison to Davis is unpersuasive. The statements in Davis were taken when McCottry was alone, unprotected by police, and apparently in immediate danger from Davis. She was seeking aid, not telling a story about the past. Pp. 14–17.

4. The Indiana courts may determine on remand whether a claim of forfeiture by wrongdoing—under which one who obtains a witness’s absence by wrongdoing forfeits the constitutional right to confrontation—is properly raised in Hammon, and, if so, whether it is meritorious. Absent such a finding, the Sixth Amendment operates to exclude Amy Hammon’s affidavit. Pp. 18–19.

Thanks to the Indiana Law Blog for the "heads up" that this case had been decided.