Monday, February 28, 2011

Supreme Court bizarro world, redux

It takes a lot of mental gymnastics to find that a shooting victim's statement to police identifying his assailant does not implicate the right to confront an accuser, but somehow the US Supreme Court did just that. In a ruling issued today, the Court found by a 6-2 vote that the victim did not make a testimonial statement to police when he told them who shot him. So when the victim died later that night, his statement to police was not inadmissible at trial even though the defendant never had the opportunity to cross-examine the victim. Because when the victim told police who shot him, he wasn't thinking about helping to prosecute the shooter. At least that's what the court insists they believe so they can justify this travesty of a decision.

Today in Michigan v. Bryant, the Court allowed a conviction to stand even though it was based in large part on the un-confronted statement of an unavailable witness, the victim who unfortunately died from his wounds. The decision is truly one of the worst I have ever read. It took me hours to get through it all because I had to take so many breaks to make sure my head didn't explode. (I'm still not sure my head is safe.)

The Court took 32 pages to get to the conclusion that a victim identifying his assailant to police did not implicate the Confrontation Clause. It should have taken them all of about 4 to reach the opposite, correct, conclusion. It should have been an easy case, a slam-dunk. The Sixth Amendment says a defendant has the right to confront his accuser. The victim in this case accused the defendant, but the defendant never got to confront that accuser in court. That really should be the end of the story and the victim's statements should have been excluded at trial.

But, no. The Court insisted that we think about the specific circumstances of how the statement was made. What were the police thinking when they arrived at a gas station to attend to a shooting victim? Was there still an ongoing emergency for the police to address? How serious were the victim's injuries? The court invests pages in creating inventive ways that the victim's statement, "Rick did it," is something other than accusatory and made for some purpose other than to aid in the eventual arrest and prosecution of Rick. No, the victim could have just good-heartedly wanted the threat to others to end. Or for the attacker to be incapacitated. Or rehabilitated. Honest to god, I did not make that up. The Supreme Court of the United States really and truly offered the suggestion that a shooting victim might tell the police who attacked him simply so that the attacker could be rehabilitated.

The Court also wants us to consider whether the emergency situation is ongoing or not, but they decline to answer the question of when an emergency does reach its end. The way the opinion reads, though, it isn't illogical to think an ongoing emergency in this type of situation just might not be resolved until the assailant is in police custody. Because as long as the crazed gunman is on the loose, we're all in danger. So nothing anyone says to police could possibly be intended to aid a prosecution. It's only to help catch the madman! Even if it takes a year to find an assailant, could it be an ongoing emergency that whole time, thus rendering statements made to police during that time outside the scope of the confrontation clause?  I seriously doubt they would take it to that extreme, but they sure didn't cut it off where they should have: where there's no gunman. (They also suggested that the emergency was ongoing because the shooter might not be done with the victim and might show up, guns blazing, even as 5 armed police officers surrounded the victim. Really? Some of my clientele may be dumb, but they're not THAT dumb.)

All of these details are just empty chatter, though. The Court is getting so mired in details that it is missing the glaringly obvious: when a victim accuses a defendant, that defendant ought to have the right to confront his accuser. And it really shouldn't matter whether the conversation with police occurred inside or outside in the rain or over putts on the 13th green or whether the shooting stopped 5 minutes ago or 5 days ago. But the Court has to get lost in all those silly details because that's the only way to let the victim's identification of his shooter come in at trial. Any answer that requires a re-trial and risks the possibility of a dirty shooting bastard getting away with it can't be right, plain text of the Constitution be damned.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to confront an accuser. In this case, the victim's statement that "Rick shot me" was allowed to come in at trial even though the defendant never got to confront that victim. Really, nothing else should matter. The defendant was accused but had no opportunity to confront the accuser. It really should be easy. Boy, did the court blow this one.

1 comment:

A Voice of Sanity said...

On occasion, the court permits one person to read the words of another into the record from the witness stand. Can the defendant have a person they select "stand in" for the deceased accuser and be examined as such? Can the SCOTUS come up with 32 pages of support for that?

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