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Davis v. Alaska

Supreme Court of the United States

December 12, 1973, Argued ; February 27, 1974, Decided

No. 72-5794

Case Summary

Procedural Posture

On writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of Alaska, petitioner appealed the state supreme court's affirmance of his convictions for burglary and grand larceny. The Court granted certiorari on the question of whether petitioner was denied his right under the Confrontation Clause to adequately cross-examine a juvenile testifying at his trial.

Overview

Petitioner, convicted of burglary and grand larceny, contended that his counsel should have been permitted to cross-examine a key juvenile witness to determine bias and prejudice. The State maintained, on the other hand, that it had an important interest in maintaining the anonymity of juvenile offenders and that the curtailment of cross-examination as to the witness' probationary status was proper. The Supreme Court held that, in the circumstances presented, the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments conferred the right to cross-examine the prosecution witness about his delinquency adjudication for burglary and his status as a probationer. Such cross-examination was necessary in order to show the existence of possible bias and prejudice. The Court disagreed with the state supreme court's interpretation of the Confrontation Clause and the adequacy and meaningfulness of the scope of cross-examination required under it.

Outcome

The judgment affirming petitioner's convictions for burglary and grand larceny was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.

LexisNexis® Headnotes

 

 

Constitutional Law > ... > Fundamental Rights > Criminal Process > Right to Confrontation

Criminal Law & Procedure > Trials > Examination of Witnesses > Cross-Examination

Evidence > ... > Examination > Cross-Examinations > General Overview

HN1  Criminal Process, Right to Confrontation

The Sixth Amendment, U.S. Const. amend. VI, guarantees the right of an accused in a criminal prosecution to be confronted with the witnesses against him. This right is secured for defendants in state as well as federal criminal proceedings. Confrontation means more than being allowed to confront the witness physically. A primary interest secured by it is the right of cross-examination.

 

Criminal Law & Procedure > Trials > Examination of Witnesses > Cross-Examination

Evidence > ... > Credibility of Witnesses > Impeachment > Bias, Motive & Prejudice

Criminal Law & Procedure > Trials > Witnesses > Impeachment

Evidence > Types of Evidence > Testimony > General Overview

HN2  Examination of Witnesses, Cross-Examination

The partiality of a witness is subject to exploration at trial, and is always relevant as discrediting the witness and affecting the weight of his testimony. The exposure of a witness' motivation in testifying is a proper and important function of the constitutionally protected right of cross-examination.

 

Constitutional Law > ... > Fundamental Rights > Criminal Process > Right to Confrontation

Criminal Law & Procedure > Trials > Examination of Witnesses > Cross-Examination

Criminal Law & Procedure > Appeals > Reversible Error > General Overview

HN3  Criminal Process, Right to Confrontation

Denial of the right of effective cross-examination is constitutional error of the first magnitude and no amount of showing of want of prejudice will cure it.

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415 U.S. 308 ; 94 S. Ct. 1105 ; 39 L. Ed. 2d 347 ; 1974 U.S. LEXIS 104 

DAVIS v. ALASKA

Prior History:  [1]  CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ALASKA.

Disposition:  499 P. 2d 1025, reversed and remanded.