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Giles v. California - 554 U.S. 353, 128 S. Ct. 2678 (2008)


Only testimonial statements are excluded by the Confrontation Clause


On September 29, 2002, petitioner Dwayne Giles shot his ex-girlfriend, Brenda Avie, outside the garage of his grandmother's house. No witness saw the shooting, but Giles' niece heard what transpired from inside the house. She heard Giles and Avie speaking in conversational tones. Avie then yelled "Granny" several times and a series of gunshots sounded. Giles' niece and grandmother ran outside and saw Giles standing near Avie with a gun in his hand. Avie, who had not been carrying a weapon, had been shot six times. One wound was consistent with Avie's holding her hand up at the time she was shot, another was consistent with her having turned to her side, and a third was consistent with her having been shot while lying on the ground. Giles fled the scene after the shooting. He was apprehended by police about two weeks later and charged with murder.

At trial in California state court, prosecutors sought to introduce statements that Avie had made to a police officer responding to a domestic-violence report about three weeks before the shooting. Avie, who was crying when she spoke, told the officer that Giles had accused her of having an affair, and that after the two began to argue, Giles grabbed her by the shirt, lifted her off the floor, and began to choke her. According to Avie, when she broke free and fell to the floor, Giles punched her in the face and head, and after she broke free again, he opened a folding knife, held it about three feet away from her, and threatened to kill her if he found her cheating on him. Over Giles' objection, the trial court admitted these statements into evidence under a provision of California law that permitted admission of out-of-court statements describing the infliction or threat of physical injury on a declarant when the declarant was unavailable to testify at trial and the prior statements were deemed trustworthy. Giles testified that he had acted in self-defense. The jury convicted Giles of first-degree murder. He appealed. While his appeal was pending, the Supreme Court of the United States decided in Crawford v. Washington that the Confrontation Clause required that a defendant have the opportunity to confront the witnesses who gave testimony against him, except in cases where an exception to the confrontation right was recognized at the time of the founding. The California Court of Appeal held that the admission of Avie's unconfronted statements at Giles' trial did not violate the Confrontation Clause because Crawford recognized a doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing. It concluded that Giles had forfeited his right to confront Avie because he had committed the murder for which he was on trial and because his intentional criminal act made Avie unavailable to testify. The Supreme Court of California affirmed on the same ground. 


Did Giles forfeit his Sixth Amendment right to confront a witness against him based upon his wrongful act that made the witness unavailable to testify at trial?




The Supreme Court of the United States vacated the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings. The Court held that the theory of forfeiture by wrongdoing accepted by the state court was not a founding-era exception to the confrontation right because the manner in which the common law forfeiture rule was applied made plain that unconfronted testimony would not be admitted without a showing that the defendant intended to prevent a witness from testifying. There was no basis for the State's argument that a defendant who committed some act of wrongdoing that rendered a witness unavailable forfeited his right to object to the witness's testimony on confrontation grounds, but not on hearsay grounds. Moreover, the State's proposed exception was not supported by case law subsequent to founding as the wrongful procurement rule did not depend on confrontation.

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