A significant part of a trial is the testimony of witnesses who saw you commit the criminal activity of which you are accused, or who have other relevant information. Witnesses may be beneficial when they are there to help your cause but can be harmful when they are there on the behalf of the prosecution. For this reason, the Sixth Amendment of the Constitution includes a provision called the Confrontation Clause that states you have the right to confront face-to-face the witnesses testifying against you.
What is the purpose of the clause?
The purpose of the clause is to protect you from unfair witness practices. The clause compels witnesses to testify in person under oath, instead of just through writing, and allows you to cross-examine them. This gives the jury the opportunity to test the honesty and reliability of witnesses through observing their delivery and behavior, including body language. It provides you with the right to cast doubt on their credibility and evidence.
Are there exceptions to the rule?
There is only one exception to the rule: testimonial hearsay. However, the unavailable witness must have already testified against you and been subject to your cross-examination in a previous proceeding. The exception does not apply to nontestimonial hearsay. Additional rules include:
- Conflicting interests is not reason to bypass the Confrontation Clause.
- The court may limit your scope of cross-examination to prevent inappropriate questions and harassment.
- A judge may grant a witness permission to use a modified form of in-person testimony for protection against severe emotional distress, such as in the case of an abused child using a one-way closed-circuit television for cross-examination.
Any possible restrictions you may face depend on the specific circumstances of your case.
How does the clause help you?
You may believe that a strong witness testimony will guarantee a negative outcome for you. However, the Confrontation Clause gives you and your criminal defense lawyer the chance to use the face-to-face situation to your advantage during cross-examination and the rest of the proceeding.
The interaction between you and the witness may reveal to the jury any exaggerations, lies, inconsistencies, faked emotions, prejudices and manipulation on the part of the witness. This may plant seeds of doubt in the jury regarding the reliability of the witness’s testimony, and reasonable doubt can be enough to prevent a conviction. For further assistance in handling witnesses for the prosecution, hire a legal team with experience in your criminal charges.