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The Confrontation Clause of the US Constitution and Criminal Law

The US Constitution protects many rights of Americans accused of crimes. One of the critical protections of the Constitution is the confrontation clause. The Confrontation Clause is included in the 6th Amendment and states in pertinent part: “the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” Enforcing the confrontation clause ensures that defendants are not convicted upon anonymous testimonies. Furthermore, the confrontation clause provides that a defendant or their attorney will have the opportunity to cross-examine any witnesses who offer testimony or evidence that the defendant is guilty of a crime.  Further, the confrontation clause prohibits the reliance on hearsay testimony to convict the accused.

Like most constitutional protections, the confrontation clause has its limits and exceptions, as evidenced by a recent New York Court of Appeals decision that affirmed a defendant’s murder conviction despite confrontation clause issues.

The defendant in the recently decided case was involved in a neighborhood fight with several acquaintances, when he allegedly went home, returned with a firearm, and shot into a crowd. Bullets fired by the defendant allegedly struck and killed a two-year-old child. Based on eyewitness testimony, authorities initially arrested another man for the crime. After further investigation and DNA analysis of clothing from the scene, police decided that the defendant was the actual shooter, and he was arrested and charged. The initial suspect quickly pleaded guilty to a gun charge and was released without any charges related to the murder.

During the trial, the prosecutor used the initial suspect’s plea colloquy (the statements made by a defendant to the court when pleading guilty to a crime) as evidence that the defendant, and not the initial suspect, was the actual shooter. The jury ultimately convicted the defendant of the charges, and the appeal followed. On Appeal, the defendant argued that because he was not allowed to cross-examine the initial suspect about the plea colloquy, the conviction must be overturned. The appellate court acknowledged that a confrontation clause issue may have risen during the trial, but declined to reverse the ruling because they found any error to be harmless. Appellate courts are permitted to ignore errors at the trial level if they determine that the error is harmless and that no reasonable jury could come to a different result, even without the error. Based on the appellate ruling, the defendant’s conviction will stand.

Have You Been Charged with a Gun Crime?

If you or someone you know has been charged with a firearm or assault offense in New York, the stakes are extremely high. Prosecutors are skilled at playing witnesses and co-defendants against each other, often using dishonest or ethically questionable tactics to obtain evidence. If you are facing charges, don’t trust the prosecutor, don’t trust your acquaintances, and don’t talk to the police without an attorney present. The skilled NY criminal defense lawyers have seen the mind games that prosecutors play, and we won’t let our clients fall into their trap. If you’re facing charges, contact us today and we can get started working on your defense. Tilem & Associates represent clients charged with all New York felonies and misdemeanors, including gun crimes and homicides. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, give us a call at 877-377-8666 or contact us through our website today.

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