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.
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.
Did the state supreme court err in its interpretation of the Confrontation Clause?
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.