Supreme Court says dying man’s words can stand at trial

A mortally wounded man’s identification of his assailant may be repeated by police officers in court, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday. The 6-to-2 decision was a significant retreat from the court’s recent embrace of the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause, which guarantees criminal defendants the right to confront witnesses against them.

Justice Antonin Scalia had been the leading proponent of a robust interpretation of the Confrontation Clause, and Monday’s decision drew a slashing dissent from him. He called the majority’s account of the facts of the case “so transparently false that professing to believe it demeans this institution…”

Justice Sotomayor, responding to criticism from Justice Scalia, acknowledged that determining whether the primary purpose of a crime victim’s statement was to provide information about past events or to aid in addressing a current emergency requires “a highly context-dependent inquiry…”

Justice Scalia’s dissent was comprehensively critical of the majority’s approach. He said it represented a significant shift away from the court’s 2004 ruling in Crawford v. Washington, which had breathed new life into the Confrontation Clause…

Justice Scalia added that the majority had smuggled back into the law a factor that the Crawford decision had rejected — whether the out-of-court statements were “reliable.”

Dispensing with confrontation because testimony is obviously reliable is akin to dispensing with jury trial because a defendant is obviously guilty,” Justice Scalia wrote for the majority in Crawford. “This is not what the Sixth Amendment prescribes.”

An essentially Republican court renders an essentially conservative opinion. One that reeks of frontier justice and the laws of Judge Lynch.

With no right to confront and question a witness defendants lose a basic constitutional right.

3 thoughts on “Supreme Court says dying man’s words can stand at trial

  1. Richard says:

    “An essentially Republican court renders an essentially conservative opinion.”

    That verdict can’t be sustained here based on which justices voted which way. Sotomayor, a liberal justice appointed by Pres. Obama (and also a former prosecutor who tends to favor the state’s interests in evidentiary rules in criminal matters), actually wrote the majority opinion, while the most strident dissenting justice was the consummate conservative and bete noir of liberals everywhere, Scalia.

    It seems to me to be neither a conservative or liberal decision, but one based on principle by both the majority and the dissenters — though of course the principles that each side finds to be controlling differ.

    I am a strong believer in not short-circuiting rights under the Confrontation Clause which protect us all from state abuse — but it is true that death-bed statements have long been regarded as exceptional and hence admissible under perhaps ancient common-law practice. Each of those sources of legitimacy need to be evaluated in this situation.

    • keaneo says:

      But, our Supreme Court – if anything – loves to establish precedence. In this instance, delivering an opinion counter to previous.

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