A criminal defendant has the Constitutional Right to confront his accusers in open court. This is referred to as the Confrontation Clause in the United States Constitution. The purpose of the clause, for one, is to prevent false accusations by requiring that the complaining witness appear in Court and testify against the accused. It also allows the defense an opportunity to show or demonstrate that the complaining witness is lying (if he is lying), or not credible.
The United States Supreme Court ruled today on Michigan v. Bryant, and may have complicated the Confrontation Clause. In this case a shot and dying man told police at the scene that he was shot by Richard Bryant. The victim died from his wounds before trial. The police testified as to what they were told, namely that the victim identified Richard Bryant as the shooter. Bryant was convicted at the trial, but the Michigan Supreme Court overturned the conviction stating that the judgment ran afoul of the Confrontation Clause. Today, the Supreme Court, in a 6-2 ruling, held that the conviction was valid and hearsay evidence (the testimony of the police) can be used when a victim of violent crime is unable to testify. The admission of the testimony has to do with the purpose of the statement. Justice Sotomayor, writing for the majority, said:
…the state court had made a mistake in considering Mr. Covington’s statements to be “testimonial” and hence subject to the Confrontation Clause. Testimonial statements, she explained, are ones solemnly made to establish facts about past events.