One of the hardest things for prosecutors and defense attorney’s alike is having very young children testify. If they are victims of child abuse or child sexual abuse, this makes the situation all the more difficult, especially for the child.
The United States Supreme Court ruled in 2015, on a case that involved child abuse. In the case, Ohio v. Clark, Darius Clark, the defendant, was convicted on child abuse charges based, in part, on testimony from the victim’s preschool teachers who stated that the child had reported the abuse to them. This speaks volumes because the accused has the right to question witnesses against them according to the 6th Amendment of the United States Constitution. Because the child’s statements were reported by the teachers and not the child, the Supreme Court of Ohio ruled that the teacher’s testimony was invalid.
In an earlier case from 2004 which was heard by the Supreme Court, they ruled that heresay testimony (testimony from a thrid party) could only be used at trial when law enforcement officers testify regarding establishment of events in current or past cases. The Supreme Court of Ohio held that since the teacher’s were not considered law enforcement and weren’t considered employees of the State of Ohio that the testimony wasn’t allowed.
However, the Supreme Court reversed the decision from the Supreme Court of Ohio stateing that these heresay statements could be used against the defendant. In a 9 to 0 vote, the Supreme Court held that the child’s statements to his teachers did not violate the Confrontation Clause of the 6th Amendment because it was not the intention of the child or the teacher’s to prosecute the defendant.
Justice Alito wrote in the opinion, “The question in this case is whether the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause prohibited prosecutors from introducing those statements (Professor’s note—the statements made by the child, L.P., identifying Clark as his abuser to his teachers) when the child was not available to be cross-examined. Because neither the child nor his teachers had the primary purpose of assisting in Clark’s prosecution, the child’s statements do not implicate the Confrontation Clause and therefore were admissible at trial.”
This case has opened up new avenues for prosecutors when it comes to putting young victims on the stand to testify. Making things easier on the littlest victims of crime is a big step toward justice and healing.