The Confrontation Clause: Crawford v. Washington

The Confrontation Clause: Crawford v. Washington

 

About the Film

In 1603, famed English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh was accused of plotting against the King. During his trail for treason, the prosecutors relied on written testimony by Raleigh’s supposed co-conspirator, Lord Cobham. Raleigh demanded Cobham be brought to the courtroom so he could confront his accuser… a demand the judge rejected. Raleigh was convicted and sentenced to death.

400 years later, Michael Crawford found himself in a similar situation.

On an August night in Olympia, Washington in 1999, Crawford’s wife, Sylvia, told him that a man named Kenneth Lee had tried to rape her.  Instead of going to the police, the drunk and angry Crawfords went to Lee’s apartment.  The two men started to brawl, and Michael stabbed Kenneth in the stomach.

Both Michael and Sylvia were arrested and interrogated separately by the police.  Though they gave very similar statements there was one major difference.  Michael claimed that he stabbed Kenneth out of self-defense.  Sylvia said Kenneth was unarmed.  That statement was enough to cast doubts on any self-defense argument Michael might present in court.

Washington state has a law that prohibits spouses from being forced to testify against each other, so at Michael’s trial, Sylvia never took the stand. But the police had taped her interrogation back at the station, and the judge allowed the prosecution to introduce that tape as testimony that Michael’s crime was attempted murder, not self-defense.

Michael’s attorney objected, arguing that Michael had a right, under the Confrontation Clause in the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, to confront his accuser in court.  After all, you can’t cross-examine a tape. Like in Raleigh’s case, the judge overruled the objection, alleging that the taped testimony didn’t require cross-examination because it was reliable. Based largely on the taped testimony of his wife, Michael Crawford was convicted of attempted murder and assault and sentenced to almost 15 years in prison.

Jeffrey Fisher

Jeffrey Fisher was a 33 year-old attorney in Seattle when he read about the Crawford case, and he was outraged.  Fisher’s belief was the right to confront a witness is as fundamental as all the other Sixth Amendment rights. Young Jeff Fisher offered to take on Crawford’s case for free, appealing the verdict based on the Confrontation Clause all the way to the Supreme Court. And in the process, both Jeffery Fisher and Michael Crawford would end up protecting a fundamental Constitutional right for us all: the right to confront our accusers.

Further Reading

The Sixth Amendment in the Bill of Rights (Called “Article the Eighth” in the Original Document)

Crawford v. Washington Opinion

More about the Sixth Amendment from The Constitution Center

 

Credits

Producers, Robe Imbriano and Maria Matasar-Padilla
Writer and Narrator, Robe Imbriano
Associate Producer, Amanda Scott
Editor, Marc Tidalgo
Graphic Animators, Victoria Nece and Hiroaki Sasa
Photography, Edward Marritz
Production Associate, Claudia Lopez
Senior Production Associate, Bonnie Birmingham
Sound, Mark Mandler and Roger Phenix
Music, Gavin Allen and Ben Decter
Production Accountants, Mara Connolly and Andrea Yellen
Assistants to the Executive Producer, Jessie Fairbanks and Rachael Benjamin
Senior Producer, Kayce Freed Jennings
Executive Producer, Tom Yellin

 

 

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