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U.S. Supreme Court Review of Case Regarding Hearsay and Sixth Amendment

November 12th, 2014 at 11:27 am

Constitutional rights, appellate court, Illinois criminal defense attorney, The United States Supreme Court has decided to review a criminal case that contains issues of hearsay and related Sixth Amendment considerations. In the case, the defendant was charged and convicted of physically abusing two minor children. The trial court allowed testimony from one of the child’s teachers who repeated the victim’s out of court statement to them, even though the older child was deemed incompetent to testify. The statements related to the identification of the defendant. The case was appealed to the appropriate state appellate court, which reversed the conviction, and then to the State Supreme Court, which affirmed the appellate court’s decision.

Defendant’s Argument

Defendant’s argument on appeal was that the introduction of the above mentioned witness’s testimony violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront his accuser. At trial, the jury was exposed to testimony and the defendant was not given the chance to properly cross examine the individual who actually made the statements. Now that the case has reached the Supreme Court, they are expected to address issues about the statements that include whether the teachers were effectively acting as law enforcement officers conducting an interrogation since they are mandatory reporters of child abuse, and whether the child’s statements to the teachers can be considered testimonial.

Considerations

The issues of hearsay and Sixth Amendment concerns have been addressed by the Court in the past. This case provides an opportunity for the Court to apply previously decided legal standards to a new set of facts. Much of the Court’s decision seems to rest on whether the child’s original statements to the teachers can be considered testimonial. If so, they likely should have been excluded from the trial as the defendant did not have the opportunity to cross-examine the declarant, the child. The Supreme Court will likely use legal precedent to decide whether the statements were testimonial in nature or not.

The mandatory reporting law presents another interesting issue to be decided in this case. If it were not for this law, teachers would likely have a valid reason for inquiring about injuries observed on a student. However, since teachers are required to report suspected child abuse to appropriate authorities, the teacher questioning the student was legally considered to be an interrogation for the purpose of gathering evidence of a crime, as was found by the State Supreme Court on appeal. The reason the interaction is considered to be such is that in this role, the teacher is acting as an agent of law enforcement and gathering information for them.

On the other hand, the argument can be furthered that despite the mandatory reporting requirement, her primary purpose in asking about a student’s injuries could be unrelated to aiding law enforcement. The reporting requirement simply affirms the teacher’s ordinary obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of students. It will be interesting to see which line of reasoning the Supreme Court identifies with.

Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or someone you know has been charged with a crime, do not hesitate to seek the representation of an experienced Rolling Meadows criminal defense attorney who can advise you on the facts of your case and protect your rights. Contact the Law Offices of Christopher M. Cosley today to schedule a consultation. We have successful experience serving clients in Cook County as well as the surrounding area.

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