Within the United States Constitution, the Sixth Amendment has long served to provide basic protections to those accused of criminal offenses. One of these protections is the right for a defendant “to be confronted with the witnesses against him,” which has traditionally been interpreted to mean that the accused can directly face their accusers in an open court. In recent years, however, this confrontation clause no longer applies to all criminal matters within California. Instead, some witnesses can now provide their testimonies without having to address the accused face to face, such as having their view of the defendant obscured or instead appearing in a separate location from the courtroom where the trial is taking place. This change has primarily occurred as the result of two major legal decisions: a ruling made by the U.S. Supreme Court in Maryland vs. Craig, 497 U.S. 836 (1990), and the approval of the Victim’s Bill of Rights Act in California.
Maryland vs. Craig
In the case of Maryland vs. Craig, the United States Supreme Court ultimately held that a defendant’s right to “confront” their accusers does not necessarily mean face to face. While this ruling does not prevent witnesses from giving testimony in court, it does limit the scope of Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution in regards to criminal defendants confronting their accusers directly. If there are concerns for the safety of a witness, for example, alternative procedures may be taken in order for them to provide their account, such as by appearing through a television screen.
Victim’s Bill of Rights Act
In 2008, voters in California approved the Victim’s Bill of Rights Act, also known as Marsy’s Law. As a result, Article I, section 28 of the California Constitution now provides greater protection for victims of crime, stating that a victim shall be entitled “to be treated with fairness and respect for his or her privacy and dignity, and to be free from intimidation, harassment, and abuse, throughout the criminal or juvenile justice process.” This law thus allows alleged victims (especially those aged 15 or younger), the option to provide testimony in an alternative location other than the courtroom, in order to avoid any potential trauma they may otherwise experience if they were close to the defendant.
What Does This Mean for You?
Due to the seriousness of sexual abuse allegations, if you or a loved one are accused of a sex crime, you may not actually be able to directly confront your accuser in court. Instead, the witness may choose to appear through a computer or television monitor from a separate location. This is especially likely if the alleged victim is a minor aged 15 years or younger, since the changes enacted by the Supreme Court’s ruling in Maryland vs. Craig as well as the Victim’s Bill of Rights are often used by the prosecutor to “protect” alleged victims who are underage from additional emotional or traumatic experiences.
Although this may not seem to be a major issue, many jurors have admitted that it is easier to determine if a witness’s account is credible if they appear directly in court, as they are able to more effectively evaluate their body language. Because of this, cases in which the alleged victims or witnesses are determined to be untruthful almost always occur when they physically appear in court. Since those accused of certain sex crimes could potentially face life imprisonment, this change can easily put your freedom at risk.
If you find yourself or one of your loved ones being accused of sexual abuse, it is extremely important that you retain the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney to work with you during this difficult time. At Wallin & Klarich, we have more than 35 years of experience fighting for people who have been accused of sex crimes. We know that any charge involving a sex crime can have devastating consequences. We fight tirelessly, with all of our skills and knowledge to deliver the best outcome possible in our clients’ cases. We can help you, too.
With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, West Covina, Torrance, and Victorville, there is a Wallin & Klarich attorney experienced in sex crimes defense near you, no matter where you work or live.
Call our offices today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (714) 386-7128 for a free phone consultation. We’ll get through this together.