The Bill of Rights and the 14th Amendment

Sixth Amendment

What is the Confrontation Clause?

The Confrontation Clause provides that criminal defendants—through their attorneys—have the chance to confront their accusers face-to-face in the courtroom. It means that defense counsel can cross-examine those who make charges and give unfavorable testimony about defendants. In the words of the Supreme Court, the Confrontation Clause “aims to produce fairness by ensuring the reliability of testimony.”

For example, police in the state of Washington charged Michael Crawford with assault and attempted murder after he stabbed a man who earlier had attempted to rape his wife. The wife later gave a tape-recorded statement to the police about the incident. However, at trial Crawford’s wife refused to testify under a spousal exemption under state law that provides that spouses don’t have to give evidence or testify against each other. The prosecution then tried to introduce the tape-recorded statement. Crawford countered that introducing that tape-recorded statement violated the Confrontation Clause, as he would not have an opportunity to cross-examine his wife.

The U.S. Supreme Court unanimously agreed in Crawford v. Washington (2004; see LegalSpeak, p. 71), reasoning that the lower court erred in allowing the wife’s testimonial statement to be introduced when the husband did not have a chance at cross-examination.


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