Where necessary to protect a child witness from trauma that would be caused by testifying in the physical presence of the defendant, at least where such trauma would impair the child's ability to communicate, the confrontation clause of U.S. Const. amend. VI does not prohibit use of a procedure that, despite the absence of face-to-face confrontation, ensures the reliability of the evidence by subjecting it to rigorous adversarial testing and thereby preserves the essence of effective confrontation.
Sandra Ann Craig, the respondent, was charged with child abuse, first and second degree sexual offenses, perverted sexual practice, assault, and battery. The named victim was a six-year-old girl who attended a kindergarten center operated by the respondent. Before trial, the state sought to invoke a state statutory procedure that permitted testimony of the alleged victim to be received by one-way closed circuit television. In this procedure, the child, the prosecutor, and the defense counsel would withdraw to another room where the child is examined and cross-examined while the judge, the jury, and the defendant would remain in the courtroom where the testimony is displayed. The respondent objected to the procedure on the basis of his right to confrontation under U.S. Const. amend. VI. The trial court, however, in denying the accused's objection, concluded that under the procedure, an accused retained the essence of the right of confrontation and that based upon expert testimony presented by the state, the testimony in a courtroom would result to the child’s emotional distress and inability to reasonably communicate. After the trial court permitted the alleged victim to testify using the statutory procedure, the jury convicted the accused on all counts. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals affirmed the convictions. However, The Court of Appeals of Maryland reversed the decision and ordered a remand for a new trial, expressing the view that the evidence presented by the state in support of the statutory procedure were insufficient to reach the high threshold required for the procedure to be invoked.
Was the evidence presented by the state insufficient to invoke the statutory procedure in question?
The Court held that the Court of Appeals improperly required that the trial court observe the child's behavior in respondent's presence, and thereby to make a specific finding that the child would suffer severe emotional distress if he or she were to testify by two-way closed circuit television. The court held that the state only needed to show that testimony by one-way closed circuit television was required to protect the child from the trauma caused by testifying in respondent's presence. Furthermore, it was held that the confrontation clause did not absolutely prohibit the child witnesses from testifying through the statutory procedure because face-to-face confrontation with witnesses appearing at trial is not an indispensable element of the Sixth Amendment's confrontation guarantee. The Court posited that in certain narrow circumstances, competing interests may warrant dispensing with confrontation at trial. Moreover, the Court asserted that the word "confront" as used in the confrontation clause, cannot simply mean face-to-face confrontation. More importantly, it was held that a state's interest in the physical and psychological well-being of child abuse victims may be sufficiently important to outweigh, at least in some cases, a defendant's right to face his or her accusers in court.