US Supreme Court agrees to hear Confrontation Clause case
Photo credit: Stephanie Sundier
US Supreme Court agrees to hear Confrontation Clause case

The US Supreme Court granted certiorari Monday in a Confrontation Clause case involving a man convicted for the 2006 shooting death of a child.

The Sixth Amendment of the US Constitution gives a criminal defendant the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” This is also known as the Confrontation Clause, and it usually requires that criminal prosecutors offer evidence at trial through witnesses subject to cross-examination.

In the case, Hemphill v. New York, Darrell Hemphill was convicted for the 2006 shooting death of a child. Hemphill was involved in a street fight in the Bronx that ended up killing a child in a passing car. The child was killed with a shot from a 9 mm handgun.

Hemphill was tried for murder after another defendant was tried for the same crime. The other defendant pleaded guilty to possession of a .357 revolver, which police had found in his apartment along with a 9 mm cartridge.

When the defense at Hemphill’s trial introduced testimony at trial that the police found the 9 mm cartridge in the other defendant’s apartment, the state introduced the other defendant’s plea allocution asserting that he possessed a .357 revolver at the shooting scene. The judge in Hemphill’s case applied New York precedent allowing admission of evidence otherwise barred by the confrontation clause when the defendant created a “misleading impression” and the evidence was needed to correct that impression.

Hemphill was subsequently convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. The New York Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction last June.

On Monday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. The issue that the court agreed to hear is whether “a criminal defendant who opens the door to responsive evidence that would otherwise be barred by the rules of evidence also forfeits his right to exclude evidence otherwise barred by the Confrontation Clause.”

The court will hear the case next fall.