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03-05-07, 10:04 PM #1
Criminal Defendant Right To Confront Accuser Does Not Apply Retroactively
LANDMARK CASE GUARANTEEING CRIMINAL DEFENDANT RIGHT TO CONFRONT ACCUSER DOES NOT APPLY RETROACTIVELY, U.S. SUPREME COURT RULES
Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a landmark case guaranteeing a criminal defendant the right to confront his accuser – Crawford v. Washington – does not apply retroactively.
In the case decided yesterday, Whorton v. Bockting, the defendant, Marvin Bockting, was accused of sexually assaulting his 6-year-old stepdaughter. The girl told her mother that her stepfather had assaulted her, and was taken to the hospital where she was examined. A detective tried to interview her, but she was too upset. A rape exam was performed, and a doctor found that the condition of the girl’s hymen and rectum were consistent with the use of some kind of blunt force. Two days later, a detective successfully interviewed the girl, during which time she repeated what she had told her mother, accurately described the positions of the sex acts, and demonstrated the acts with anatomically correct dolls.
At Bockting’s preliminary hearing, the girl was able to answer questions about the difference between the truth and a lie, but became upset when she was asked about being touched by Bockting. Upon further questioning, she said she could not remember what had occurred and did not remember whether she had talked with the detective about the claimed assault. The judge declared the girl an unavailable witness, and the preliminary hearing proceeded with the testimony of the mother and detective. At trial, the judge found that the girl’s hearsay statements were admissible because she was effectively unavailable for trial. Without having an opportunity to cross-examine the girl, Bockting was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. During Bockting’s various appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Crawford. Bockting then filed a federal habeas corpus petition to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asking for his 1988 conviction to be reversed based on Crawford. The Ninth Circuit granted Bockting’s request, ruling that the Crawford decision should apply retroactively to the Bockting conviction. The case was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Before the U.S. Supreme Court, Bockting argued that Crawford should be applied retroactively, and that his conviction should be thrown out because his constitutional rights were violated. Specifically, Bockting contended that the statements made by his stepdaughter to the police should not have been admissible at trial because she did not testify and Bockting’s attorneys did not have an opportunity to cross-examine her.
Nevada Attorney General George J. Chanos, who opposed Bockting, contended that Crawford should not be applied retroactively. Chanos pointed out that the prosecution also attempted to call the 6-year-old victim to the stand, but that she was unable to testify. “Under a then-existing exception to the hearsay rule, the trial judge allowed the victim’s mother and a police detective to testify about statements the victim had made about the rapes,” Chanos said. The Nevada Attorney General’s Office argued that the law should not apply retroactively to cases that have already been through their final appeals. Chanos noted that five U.S. Circuit Courts previously ruled that Crawford should not be applied retroactively, and that only the Ninth Circuit ruled otherwise.
In the end, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Chanos, ruling that a defendant’s right to cross-examine witnesses does not apply retroactively. Specifically, the high court found that Crawford announced a new rule, but that the rule is procedural, not substantive. Therefore, the rule cannot be applied retroactively unless it is a “watershed rule of criminal procedure” implicating the fundamental fairness and accuracy of the criminal proceeding.
To qualify as a “watershed rule,” the Supreme Court explained, a new rule must be both necessary to prevent an impermissibly large risk of an inaccurate conviction, and “alter our understanding of the bedrock procedural elements essential to the fairness of a proceeding.” In this case, the justices found, neither requirement was met.
With respect to the first element, the justices explained that it is not enough to say that the rule is aimed at improving the accuracy of trial, or is directed toward enhancing its reliability and accuracy. Instead, the question is whether the new rule remedied an “impermissibly large risk of an inaccurate conviction.” That standard was not met in this case, the justices found. They explained that the only case that has ever qualified was Gideon v. Wainwright, which held that counsel must be appointed for any indigent defendant charged with a felony. When a defendant who wishes to be represented by counsel is denied representation, Gideon held, the risk of an unreliable verdict is intolerably high.
But the Crawford rule is in no way comparable to the Gideon rule, the Court
stated. The Crawford rule is much more limited in scope, and the relationship of that rule to the accuracy of the factfinding process is far less direct and profound. In short, Crawford did not effect a change of the same magnitude that Gideon did, the justices determined.
Moreover, the Supreme Court stated that to meet the “bedrock” requirement, “a new rule must itself constitute a previously unrecognized bedrock procedural element that is essential to the fairness of a proceeding.” Unlike Gideon, the Crawford rule does not apply, the high court stated. While the justices said that the Crawford rule was “certainly important,” they found that it was not in the same category as Gideon. “The Crawford rule simply lacks the ‘primacy’ and ‘centrality’ of the Gideon rule, and does not qualify as a rule that altered our understanding of the bedrock procedural elements essential to the fairness of a proceeding,” the Court concluded.
Accordingly, the Supreme Court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s decision, and upheld the defendant’s conviction.
The case is Whorton v. Bockting, Supreme Court of the United States, No. 05-595, February 28, 2007.Don't Be Afraid To Fail.
No Tengas Miedo Al Fracaso.
03-06-07, 04:45 AM #2GrasshopperVerified LEO
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I think more important than the ruling itself is the standard that the Court just set up.And Shepards we shall be,
for thee, My Lord, for thee,
Power hath descended forth from Thy hand,
That our feet may swiftly carry out Thy Command.
So we shall flow a river forth to Thee
And teeming with souls will it ever be.
In Nomine Patris, Et Filli, Et Spiritus Sancti.
03-06-07, 04:55 AM #3Banned
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Maybe Crawford could have been applied narrowly in this case. As I don't know the Bockting case I cannot comment further on it. I'm surprised too.
03-06-07, 12:32 PM #4
Good that he can still rot in jail.Alpha Phi Sigma Alum - Alpha Delta Chapter
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