Ohio v. Clark

Posted: February 8, 2015 by beguide in case summaries, Criminal Procedure

WHAT HAPPENED: Clark was charged and convicted of child abuse. The primary evidence used to convict him came from the three year old child he was accused of assaulting. Prior to trial, the Court held that the child was unfit to testify, so the Court allowed the teacher who first interviewed the child to testify in the child’s place.

WHY IS THIS BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT: The Confrontation Clause gives every criminal defendant the right to confront the persons who accuse him/her of a crime face to face.   While originally reserved in the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution, the rights under the Confrontation Clause were recently clarified by the Court approximately ten years ago, where it was held that “testimonial” statements used against the Defendant had to be spoken in Court. It sounds like a good rule, except the Court did not provide a whole lot of guidance as to what “testimonial” means. The issue before the Court is whether or not the teacher, who is required to report accusations of child abuse to the police by law, is sufficiently connected to the police to classify her statements as testimonial.

WHAT WAS THE RULING: This decision is not released yet.

WHAT ARE THE RAMIFICATIONS OF THIS DECISION: This case will hopefully provide guidance to the meaning of testimonial, specifically in the context of child abuse cases. Since teachers are common reporters of child abuse, classifying all statements made to teachers as testimonial would provide a significant roadblock in the way of prosecuting child abuse cases, which are generally difficult enough to prove as is. In the same token, giving greater permission to second hand statements without cross-examination makes falsely convicting someone much easier just the same.

YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR CLARK IF: you are fan of criminal procedure, the Constitution, and people who avoid criminal penalties because of legal technicalities.

YOU SHOULD ROOT FOR OHIO IF: you are a fan of children’s rights, hearsay, and the road to hell being paved with good intentions.

WHO WAS RIGHT: This is the case Brett and Nazim disagreed over the most. Brett believed that teachers should never be classified as testimonial, where Nazim, who has a self-proclaimed “primal connection to the Confrontation Clause”, did not believe that the statements should be allowed. When this decision comes out, the winner gets to shave the loser’s eyebrows.


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