Kentucky Supreme Court Holds Zoom Testimony Violated Defendant’s Sixth Amendment Right of Confrontation Afforded by the U.S. Constitution Without Showing of Necessity

Campbell v. Commonwealth of Kentucky

Kentucky Supreme Court

Circuit Court found Defendant guilty of violating a Domestic Violence Order and first-degree assault, among other convictions. Defendant appealed, alleging in relevant part that the trial court erred because it allowed testimony via zoom. The Kentucky Supreme Court found that the trial court committed error when it permitted a witness to testify via zoom in violation of Defendant’s right to confrontation afforded by the 6th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and that the error required reversal of the conviction of assault.

Defendant argued that permitting a witness to testify viz zoom violated his rights under the Confrontation Clause of the 6th Amendment of the United States Constitution. On the morning of trial, the Commonwealth informed the court and Defendant’s attorney that the Commonwealth’s expert would have to testify via zoom as he was scheduled to work at the hospital that day. The witness’s testimony was crucial in proving an essential element of the assault charge.

Defendant objected.

The Sixth amendment guarantees the accused in all criminal proceedings the right to be “confronted with the witnesses against him.” The primary purpose of which is to compel the witness “to stand face to face with the jury in order that they may look at him, and judge by his demeanor upon the stand and the manner in which he gives his testimony whether he is worthy of belief.”

In Maryland v. Craig, 497 U.S. 836 (1990), the U.S. Supreme Court held that a defendant’s right of confrontation is not absolute and that it might be outweighed upon an adequate showing of necessity on a case specific basis. (holding that a state’s interest in the physical and psychological well-being of child abuse victims may be sufficiently important to outweigh, at least in come cases, a defendant’s right to face his or her accusers in court). In Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the balancing test holding that the 6th Amendment does not express a preference for face-to-face confrontation, but “it commands, not that evidence be reliable, but that reliability be assessed in a particular manner: by testing in the crucible of cross-examination.” Although contradicted, Crawford did not overrule Craig.

Applying Craig, the Kentucky Supreme Court found there was no showing of necessity, other than convenience to the witness, of balancing the victim’s interests that justified the surrender of the Defendant’s constitutional right of confrontation.  

Digested by: Emily T. Cecconi

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