OLYMPIA — The U.S. Supreme Court Thursday ruled that out-of-court statements made to non-law enforcement individuals can potentially be used in criminal prosecutions, endorsing the position advocated by Attorney General Bob Ferguson in a “friend of the court” brief that was joined by 41 other state Attorneys General.
“This decision will help ensure that those who commit child abuse, domestic violence, or other crimes are brought to justice,” Ferguson said.
The case, Ohio v. Clark, involves a 3-year-old boy whose teachers discovered “whip-like” marks on his face and body. The child told his teachers that his mother’s boyfriend caused his injuries.
Ohio does not allow children under the age of 10 to testify, so the boy could not testify, and his teachers instead testified as to what the boy told them about his injuries. The defendant argued that this violated the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation clause, which provides criminal defendants with the right to face witnesses against them.
In yesterday’s decision, the court ruled that out-of-court statements that are not made for the purpose of preserving testimony for prosecution may be admissible at trial. Although the teachers had a duty to report child abuse, the Court held that the primary purpose of the boy and his teachers was to deal with the immediate safety issue, not to preserve testimony.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Peter Lavallee, Communications Director, (360) 586-0725; PeterL@atg.wa.gov