Ohio v. Clark

135 S. Ct. 2173 (2015)



In the context of the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause, regarding the primary purpose test, one factor is the informality of the situation and the interrogation. A “formal station-house interrogation,” 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.


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. According to the trial court, L. P.’s responses were not testimonial statements covered by the Sixth Amendment.  A jury convicted Clark on all but one count. Clark appealed his conviction, and the state appellate court reversed on the ground that the introduction of L. P.’s out-of-court statements violated the Confrontation Clause. The Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed, holding that under this Court’s Confrontation Clause decisions, L. P.’s statements qualified as testimonial because the primary purpose of the teachers’ questioning was not to deal with an existing emergency but rather to gather evidence potentially relevant to a subsequent criminal prosecution.


Did the introduction of L.P.’s out-of-court statements violate the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause?




The Court held that the introduction of L. P.'s statements at trial did not violate the Confrontation Clause. According to the Court, the Confrontation Clause generally prohibits the introduction of “testimonial” statements by a non-testifying witness, unless the witness is unavailable to testify, and the defendant had had a prior opportunity for cross-examination. A statement qualifies as testimonial if the primary purpose of the conversation was to create an out-of-court substitute for trial testimony. In the case at bar, the Court ruled that L. P.'s statements were not testimonial. The Court posited that L. P.'s statements were not made with the primary purpose of creating evidence for Clark's prosecution as they occurred in the context of an ongoing emergency involving suspected child abuse. L. P.'s teachers asked questions aimed at identifying and ending a threat. They did not inform the child that his answers would be used to arrest or punish his abuser. L. P. never hinted that he intended his statements to be used by the police or prosecutors. The Court further held that Clark’s counter-argument cannot stand because mandatory reporting obligations do not convert a conversation between a concerned teacher and her student into a law enforcement mission aimed at gathering evidence for prosecution.

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