Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Supreme Court Affirms Right to Confront Witnesses

In a decision reaffirming a defendant's right to confront witnesses, the United States Supreme Court overturned a murder conviction because the jury had heard statements made by the victim before she was murdered. Dwayne Giles had been arrested and charged with the shooting death of his girlfriend Brenda Avie. Several weeks before she was shot and killed, Brenda Avie had told the police that Giles had assaulted her and threatened to kill her. At the murder trial of Dwayne Giles, the jury heard from the police that Brenda Avie had told them about the threats before the murder. Giles was convicted and in his appeal claimed that the jury should not have heard these statements because he could not cross examine her and that his right to confront his witnesses had been violated. In a 6 to 3 decision, the United States Supreme Court agreed and overturned his conviction because the jury should not have heard the out of court statements of the victim. Justice Antonin Scalia said in his majority opinion that domestic violence, though "an intolerable offense," does not justify "abridging the rights of criminal defendants. In dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer said the court should have ruled that defendants forfeit their constitutional right to confront witnesses when they are responsible for the witness' absence from trial. Justice Breyer argued that the defendant now gets to benefit from killing the witness by not having the witness available to testify and now their statements cannot be used. He claimed that this is a "windfall" for defendants.

The importance of this decision is that defendants can continue to rely on their constitutional right to confront all of the witnesses against them and this decision maintains a sense of fairness to the judicial process.

For more information about the Chicago criminal defense attorneys at Legal Defenders, P.C., visit us at or call us anytime at 1-800-228-7295.

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