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Law School Case Brief

Ohio v. Clark - 135 S. Ct. 2173 (2015)

Rule:

In the context of the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause, regarding the primary purpose test, one additional factor is the informality of the situation and the interrogation. A "formal station-house interrogation," like the questioning in Crawford, is more likely to provoke testimonial statements, while less formal questioning is less likely to reflect a primary purpose aimed at obtaining testimonial evidence against the accused. And in determining whether a statement is testimonial, standard rules of hearsay, designed to identify some statements as reliable, will be relevant. In the end, the question is whether, in light of all the circumstances, viewed objectively, the "primary purpose" of the conversation was to create an out-of-court substitute for trial testimony. 

Facts:

Respondent Darius Clark sent his girlfriend away to engage in prostitution while he cared for her 3-year-old son L. P. and 18-month-old daughter A. T. When L. P.'s preschool teachers noticed marks on his body, he identified Clark as his abuser. Clark was subsequently tried on multiple counts related to the abuse of both children. At trial, the State introduced L. P.'s statements to his teachers as evidence of Clark's guilt, but L. P. did not testify. The trial court denied Clark's motion to exclude the statements under the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause. A jury convicted Clark on all but one count. The state appellate court reversed the conviction on Confrontation Clause grounds, and the Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed.

Issue:

Did the introduction of the three-year-old son's statements violate the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause because the child was not available to be cross-examined?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The United States Supreme Court held that where teachers discovered red marks on the three-year-old son of Clark's girlfriend and the child identified Clark as his abuser, the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment did not prohibit prosecutors from introducing those statements when the child was not available to be cross-examined because the child's statements to his teachers were not testimonial. The statements were not testimonial because the statements clearly were not made with the primary purpose of creating evidence for Clark's prosecution since the child's statements occurred in the context of an ongoing emergency involving suspected child abuse, and the teacher's questions and the child's answers were primarily aimed at identifying and ending the threat. The Court further held that mandatory reporting statutes did not convert the conversation into a law enforcement mission.

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