Archive | Confrontation Clause

Friday, September 29th, 2023

Supreme Court will revisit the application of the Confrontation Clause to forensic evidence.

The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Smith v. Arizona, No. 22-899. The question presented is:

Whether the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment permits the prosecution in a criminal trial to present testimony by a substitute expert conveying the testimonial statements of a nontestifying forensic analyst, on the grounds that (a) the testifying expert offers some independent opinion and the analyst’s statements are offered not for their truth but to explain the expert’s opinion, and (b) the defendant did not independently seek to subpoena the analyst.

Defense counsel should be sure to make Confrontation Clause objections whenever the government seeks to use or admit forensic evidence at trial without calling the individual (or all of the individuals) who actually performed all of the underlying forensic testing.

Smith will hopefully bring some clarity to this area of law. The Supreme Court has long held that criminal defendants have a …

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Categories: Confrontation Clause, Sixth Amendment

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Monday, April 19th, 2021

Supreme Court Grants Review to Clarify Rules Governing Forfeiture or Waiver of Constitutional Right to Confront Witnesses

The Supreme Court granted certiorari today in Hemphill v. New York (No. 20-637), to resolve the following question: “Whether, or under what circumstances, a criminal defendant who opens the door to responsive evidence also forfeits his right to exclude evidence otherwise barred by the Confrontation Clause.”

The facts are straightforward. In 2006, someone fired a 9- millimeter handgun during a melee in the Bronx, killing a child in a passing car. When Hemphill was tried for the crime, he contended that the shooter was another man at the scene, Nicholas Morris. As part of that defense, Hemphill elicited testimony that the police had recovered a 9-millimeter cartridge on Morris’s nightstand hours after the shooting. The State then successfully moved to introduce a guilty plea from Morris in which he said he possessed a different gun—a .357 revolver—at the scene of the shooting. The New York courts rejected Hemphill’s claim that …

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Categories: Confrontation Clause, Sixth Amendment

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Tuesday, March 27th, 2018

Confrontation Clause Error in Summary Opinion

Yesterday the Circuit engaged in a bit of harmless error in describing the relationship between the Confrontation Clause and the business records exception to the hearsay rule, Fed. R. Evid. 803(6). The mistake in United States v. Grecco, No. 16-3112 (2d Cir. 2008) (Jacobs, Wesley, Korman (EDNY)), available here, is worth flagging because it has the potential to create problems in future cases.

The appeal in Grecco raised the question of whether the admission of an autopsy report violated the Confrontation Clause because the report was “testimonial” in nature. The panel held that any error in admitting the report was harmless, and thus declined to address this question. The panel repeatedly framed the question, however, as “whether the autopsy report was testimonial in nature, or a business record that is therefore not subject to Confrontation Clause requirements.” Sum. op. at 3.

This framing misstates the law. At one …

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Categories: Confrontation Clause, Crawford, hearsay

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Wednesday, November 29th, 2017

Second Circuit Opinion on Post-Arrest DNA Testing and the Confrontation Clause

Kenneth Washington was convicted based on DNA records created after his arrest. He did not have the opportunity to cross-examine the analysts who tested the DNA. Yesterday the Second Circuit rejected Washington’s habeas petition, which argued that the admission of these records violated clearly established law governing the Confrontation Clause. The holding of Washington v. Griffin (Katzmann, Kearse, Livingston) (affirming Block, J., EDNY), available here, is narrow. The opinion, however, includes inaccurate dicta concerning the test for whether hearsay evidence is testimonial and thus within the purview of the Confrontation Clause.

Washington was charged with multiple felony counts in connection with three separate home invasions. At each crime scene, investigators collected DNA matching that of Washington’s profile in the New York State DNA Index. He was arrested, and a detective collected a DNA sample from him using a buccal swab. At trial, an analyst from the New York City …

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Categories: Confrontation Clause, DNA

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Thursday, September 22nd, 2016


In today’s United States v. Harris, the Second Circuit (Newman, Calabresi, Raggi) decided two things with respect to supervised release.

First, “18 U.S.C. § 3583(e) does not preclude revocation of supervised release on the basis of conduct that earlier prompted a modification of supervision conditions.”  Here, the district court first modified Harris’s terms of supervision — based on his being arrested for allegedly selling drugs — and later revoked supervision when that suspected violation was confirmed by two police officers credibly testifying to witnessing the drug sale.

Second, Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 32.1(b)(2)(c) does not preclude revocation of supervised release on the basis of hearsay if (1) there is good reason to proffer hearsay and (2) the hearsay is sufficiently reliable.  Here, a witness who claimed Harris punched her “professed fear of retaliation” if she testified against him, which the Court deemed good reason to excuse her …

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Categories: Confrontation Clause, supervised release

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Sunday, March 20th, 2011

Meet The Press

United States v. Treacy, No. 09-3939-cr (2d Cir. March 9, 2011) (McLaughlin, Hall, CJJ, Restani, JCIT)

James J. Treacy, former COO and President of the parent company of, was convicted of securities fraud and related offenses based on a scheme in which he backdated stock options. On appeal, the circuit held that the district court violated Treacy’s confrontation rights by restricting his cross-examination of a Wall Street Journal reporter who had written an article about the backdating of options at Monster that seemingly contained false exculpatory statements made by Treacy, but that the error was harmless. The court also found that the district court improperly calculated the forfeiture amount with respect to one of the options grants.

The Confrontation Issue

At trial, the government introduced into evidence a WSJ article that opined that the odds were one in nine million that a pattern of options grants as favorable or …

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Categories: Confrontation Clause, forfeiture, Uncategorized

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Saturday, June 20th, 2009

Gray’s Anatomy

United States v. Jass, No. 06-4899-cr (2d Cir. June 16, 2009) (Walker, Cabranes, Raggi, CJJ)

Marian Jass was jointly tried with her much older boyfriend, Kenneth Leight, on charges that they sexually exploited Leight’s daughter and one of her friends. Leight, but not Jass, was also charged with several child pornography counts, based on materials found in his home. The evidence of sexual exploitation consisted mainly of the testimony of the two girls. The government also relied on an agent’s testimony that Leight gave a detailed oral, unsigned and unacknowledged, confession about the episode involving the daughter’s friend. The statement, which incriminated Jass and referred to her seven times, was admitted over her objection after being redacted to substitute the phrase “another person” for each reference to her name. Leight did not testify and could not be cross-examined about the statement attributed to him. The court instructed the jury that …

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Categories: bruton, Confrontation Clause, sex offenses, Uncategorized

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Thursday, November 20th, 2008


United States v. Figueroa, No. 06-1595-cr (2d Cir. November 18, 2008) (Kearse, Sack, Hall, CJJ)

In an interesting companion to Brinson v. Walker [blogged below under the title “Confrontation Claws”], the court treated a highly similar issue, this time under both the Confrontation Clause and the federal rules of evidence.

At Edwin Figueroa’s gun possession trial, he wanted to cross-examine a government witness about the fact that the witness had swastikas tattooed on his body. Since Figueroa was a member of a minority group, he argued that the tattoos would show that the witness was biased. Citing Rule 608, the district court precluded the questioning as inadmissible evidence of “bad character.”

On appeal, the circuit disagreed, holding that precluding the cross-examination violated the Confrontation Clause. “Inasmuch as the tattoos suggested that [the witness] harbored animus against racial or ethnic minority groups and their members, they were relevant to and probative …

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Categories: bias, Confrontation Clause, Uncategorized

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Friday, November 14th, 2008

Confrontation Claws

Brinson v. Walker, No. 06-0618-cr (2d Cir. November 13, 2008) (Kearse, Leval, Sack, CJJ)

In this state prisoner’s habeas corpus case, the circuit affirmed the grant of the writ because the state court’s refusal to permit the defense to cross-examine a supposed robbery victim about his racial bias violated the confrontation clause.

Brinson, the petitioner, testified at trial that this was not a robbery, but rather a small – ten-dollar – marijuana sale that had gone bad. He had hoped to raise a defense that the witness’ robbery accusation was false, and was motivated by a racial hatred of African-Americans. Defense counsel had a compelling offer of proof: first, he indicated that the witness had refused to serve African-Americans when he worked as a waiter, and that he was prepared to call the victim’s supervisor if the witness denied it. In addition, an acquaintance of the witness was prepared to …

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Categories: bias, Confrontation Clause, Uncategorized

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Wednesday, October 24th, 2007


United States v. Williams, No. 05-6036-cr (2d Cir. October 23, 2007) (Newman, Walker, Straub, CJJ).

In this curious but very troubling case, the court seems to have concluded, sub silentio, that Crawford trumps Bruton.

Brothers Bobby and Michael Williams were tried for a drug-related triple homicide. Neither brother testified. At trial, over objection, the court permitted two civilian witnesses to testify that, after the shootings, Bobby made statements to them admitting his involvement in the shootings. Some of those statements implicated Michael. On appeal, Michael argued that the admission of Bobby’s statements violated the Confrontation Clause and Fed.R.Evid. 804(b)(3).

Obviously, Michael’s Confrontation Clause claim raises Bruton issues; indeed, this is the classic Bruton situation – the out-of-court statement of one defendant is used against a co-defendant. But here, the court never even got to Bruton. It held that Bobby’s out of court remarks were not “testimonial” under Crawford, and thus …

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Categories: bruton, co-defendant, Confrontation Clause, Crawford, Uncategorized

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Friday, September 28th, 2007

Crawford’s Eleven

United States v. Becker, Docket No. 06-1274-cr (2d Cir. September 13, 2007) (Calabresi, Parker, Wesley, CJJ)

At Becker’s stock fraud trial, the government introduced into evidence the plea allocutions of eleven (yes, eleven) of his co-defendants, supposedly for the “limited purpose” of establishing that the conspiracy charged in the indictment existed. The Circuit concluded that this was a Confrontation Clause violation under Crawford and, for the first time, found that such a violation was not harmless.

The court rejected the government’s claim that the district court’s limiting instructions cured the error, finding that the sheer number of allocutions and their repetitive nature suggested that the conspiracy was widespread, “making it plausible for the jury to assume that Becker was a participant simply by association with” the other conspirators, despite the instructions. In addition, the content of the allocutions was “far reaching and detailed” and significantly undermined Becker’s defense that his …

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Categories: 2255, Confrontation Clause, Crawford, harmless error, law of the case, plea allocution, Sixth Amendment, Teague, Uncategorized

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