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Coy v. Iowa

Supreme Court of the United States

January 13, 1988, Argued ; June 29, 1988, Decided

No. 86-6757

Opinion

 [*1014]  [***862]  [**2799]    JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

 Appellant was convicted of two counts of lascivious acts with a child after a jury trial in which a screen placed between him and the two complaining witnesses blocked him from their sight. Appellant contends that this procedure, authorized by state statute, violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him.

In August 1985, appellant was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting two 13-year-old girls earlier that month while they were camping out in the backyard of the house next door to him. According to the girls, the assailant entered their tent after they were asleep wearing a stocking over his head, shined a flashlight in their eyes, and warned them not to look at him; neither was able to describe his face. In November 1985, at the beginning of appellant's trial, the State made a motion pursuant to a recently enacted statute, Act of May 23, 1985, § 6, 1985 Iowa Acts 338, now codified at Iowa Code  [****4]  § 910A.14 (1987), 2 to  [**2800]  allow the  [***863]  complaining witnesses to testify either via closed-circuit television or behind a screen. See App. 4-5. The trial court approved the use of a large screen to be placed between appellant and the witness stand during the girls' testimony. After certain lighting adjustments  [*1015]  in the courtroom, the screen would enable appellant dimly to perceive the witnesses, but the witnesses to see him not at all.

Appellant objected strenuously to use of the screen, based first of all on his Sixth Amendment confrontation right. He argued that, although the device might succeed in its apparent aim of making the complaining witnesses feel less uneasy in giving  [****5]  their testimony, the Confrontation Clause directly addressed this issue by giving criminal defendants a right to face-to-face confrontation. He also argued that his right to due process was violated, since the procedure would make him appear guilty and thus erode the presumption of innocence. The trial court rejected both constitutional claims, though it instructed the jury to draw no inference of guilt from the screen.

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487 U.S. 1012 *; 108 S. Ct. 2798 **; 101 L. Ed. 2d 857 ***; 1988 U.S. LEXIS 3033 ****; 56 U.S.L.W. 4931

COY v. IOWA

Prior History: APPEAL FROM THE SUPREME COURT OF IOWA.

Disposition:  397 N. W. 2d 730, reversed and remanded.

CORE TERMS

confrontation, cross-examination, witnesses, screen, girls, face-to-face, right to confront, cases, accuser, sexual, courtroom, literal, rights, face to face, inherently prejudicial, closed-circuit, out-of-court, television, testifying, rooted, public policy, reliability, assaulting, convicted, hearsay, trauma, hear, child witness, harmlessness, implications

Criminal Law & Procedure, Trials, Examination of Witnesses, Child Witnesses, Defendant's Rights, Right to Confrontation, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Criminal Process, General Overview, Bill of Rights, Stolen Property, Receiving Stolen Property, Elements, Cross-Examination, Witnesses