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Maryland v. Craig


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497 U.S. 836 (1990), argued 18 Apr. 1990, decided 27 June 1990 by vote of 5 to 4; O’Connor for the Court, Scalia, joined by Brennan, Marshall, and Stevens, in dissent. Craig was convicted of child abuse after a trial where the victim testified by one-way closed circuit television, a procedure permitted by state law. The judge, jury, and defendant remained in the courtroom and the child was examined and cross-examined outside of the defendant's presence. On appeal the state court of appeals sided with Craig and questioned the constitutionality of the statute and challenged the procedures. On certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court, Craig argued that the Sixth Amendment did not permit one-way closed circuit television testimony because it deprived her of an opportunity to confront her accuser.

For the Court, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor held that the Maryland statute did not violate the Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause because its central purposes were realized in this novel procedure. These included efforts to insure the reliability of evidence, the opportunity to cross-examine witnesses, the taking of an oath, and observation of the witness's demeanor during testimony. Although O’Connor accepted the importance of face-to-face confrontation in criminal trials, she argued that it was not an indispensable element of criminal procedure, especially given the state's interest in protecting child witnesses from the trauma of direct confrontation with the accused. On this point O’Connor maintained that face-to-face confrontation was not an absolute right although the Court had held in Coy v. Iowa (1988) that “the Confrontation Clause guarantees the defendant a face-to-face meeting with witnesses appearing before the trier of fact” (p. 1016).

In dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia argued that the majority was conspicuously failing to sustain a categorical guarantee of the Constitution. He charged that the Court was ignoring explicit constitutional text and substituting “currently favored public policy” in its place (p. 3172). Conceding that society may well favor the use of one-way closed circuit televised testimony for child victims, and even implying that such a procedure may not necessarily be unfair, Scalia nonetheless stressed that it was not one that was permitted by the Constitution. Procedures that realize the intrinsic objectives of the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause, he said, do not compensate for the failure to respect the Constitution's explicitly worded protection.

The controversy generated by the Craig decision will not quickly abate. In a companion case, Idaho v. Wright (1990), the Court ruled, also 5 to 4, that a physician's account of statements offered by an alleged child victim of sexual abuse was not reliable and therefore inadmissible unless such an account fell within a firmly rooted exception to the hearsay rule or was supported by a showing of “particularized guarantees of trustworthiness.”

Susette M. Talarico

Subjects: Law.


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