The 6th Amendment gives criminal defendants the right to confront the witnesses against them. Confrontation generally includes the opportunity to meaningfully cross-examine the witnesses. But in one recent Court of Appeals case, the victim’s faulty memory didn’t matter – the prosecutor was simply allowed to read her statements to the police instead. This represents a big change in the way criminal cases are tried.
The right to confront witnesses generally means that criminal defendants’ attorneys have to be allowed to ask questions of the witnesses against them in order to test their honesty, memory, and accuracy. While statements made to police may be admitted in civil cases, victims in criminal court have to testify in person. But what happens when the victim doesn’t remember what happened?
The Michigan Court of Appeals recently held that a victim’s written statement to the police was admissible when the victim could not remember what happened on the day of the incident. The case involved an argument that had turned violent. The defendant was charged with domestic violence, unlawful imprisonment, and attempted arson.
But when the victim took the stand she could not remember what had happened. She testified that she had been very intoxicated the night of the incident and had no memory of the events. The court allowed her prior written statements to the police to be read into the record even though she could not confirm them or be cross-examined as to their authenticity.
The case is another blow to criminal defendants’ rights in domestic violence cases. In an area where convictions are almost always based on the testimony of the victim, the credibility of that witness can now be protected just by a convenient lack of memory. Rather than protecting the defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him, this case allowed a victim to rely on her prior statements without fear of cross-examination.
Please note: Every case is different, and there may be some aspect of your particular case which may result in an outcome other than is described above. This post is not intended as legal advice and may not apply to your particular case.Â It is always best to contact our office for a consultation if you have been or believe you may be charged with a crime.