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Supreme Court hears arguments in victim statements cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday heard oral arguments on whether unsworn non-testimonial statements made by crime victims to 911 operators or to police officers at crime scenes are inadmissible at trials of criminal defendants. In the cases of Davis v. Washington [Duke Law case backgrounder, merit briefs] and Hammon v. Indiana [Duke Law case backgrounder, merit briefs], the Court focused on whether the rights of the accused were violated since these statements were not made under oath or subjected to cross-examination. The ruling could be significant because of its effect on prosecutors being able to still bring criminal charges even when victims or key witnesses are unable or not willing to testify. Justice Ginsburg pointed out that the outcome of these cases would profoundly affect domestic violence cases since "many women in these situations are scared to death" and do not want to testify.

Lawyers for both sides of the cases want a clarification of the 2004 Supreme Court decision in Crawford v. Washington [Duke Law case backgrounder], which held that the use of testimonial statements at trial is a violation of the so-called Confrontation Clause [U. Michigan Law backgrounder] of the Sixth Amendment [text] if the defendant is not able to cross examine the person making the statement. The Bush administration also filed an amicus brief [text] on behalf of the respondent in Davis v. Washington. Justice Scalia, who authored Crawford v. Washington, expressed concern about defendants who could be charged with crimes based on "false" statements from witnesses who would not be subject to cross-examination. AP has more.

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