Confronting Justice Head-On: The Role of States in Protecting Face-to-Face Confrontation

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The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment provides: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” For much of America’s history, the federal courts have interpreted this constitutional guarantee as protecting the right of a criminal defendant to confront, face-to-face at trial, any witness accusing the defendant of a crime. In its landmark 1990 decision, Maryland v. Craig, the Supreme Court reversed course and severely restricted the confrontation rights of criminal defendants. The Court, in upholding the use of closed-circuit television testimony of a child witness who was not present in the courtroom with the defendant, stated that the Confrontation Clause does not “guarantee[] criminal defendants the absolute right to a face-to-face meeting with witnesses against them at trial.” Craig was undoubtedly a significant blow to the rights of criminal defendants across America. Craig does not represent an insurmountable barrier for those who find themselves on the sharp end of a criminal accusation.

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