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What is Included in the Confrontation Clause?

Posted on April 24, 2023 in

The United States Constitution’s Sixth Amendment guarantees that the defendant in a criminal trial may confront witnesses that are testifying against them. Not only does it allow for the confrontation of witnesses, but this includes the opportunity to cross-examine them.

This allows for the defendant’s legal team to question witnesses in court and challenge the accuracy of their testimony, and test their reliability. Texas has codified the Confrontation Clause in its state constitution. The state’s Code of Criminal Procedure includes the Confrontation Clause as well. 

The Confrontation Clause’s History

In English common law, witnesses were mandated to give their testimony in court before the accused party. In 1791, the right to confront witnesses was ratified in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. 

The Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Confrontation Clause has varied. The Texas government ratified it in the state constitution to clear up any confusion.

The Confrontation Clause in the Lone Star State

Texas’s Confrontation Clause ensures a defendant has the right to face witnesses in court and to perform a cross-examination against them. This allows the accused to cross-examine anyone who testifies against them in court. This is the defendant’s opportunity to impeach the witness’s reliability and character and to challenge the accuracy of their testimony.

The Confrontation Clause allows the defendant to confront witnesses with counter-evidence that disproves what they are testifying to.

Some Exceptions to the Rule

One of the tenants of our justice system is the right to face your accuser and those who offer testimony against you in court. While it is a fundamental right, sometimes some exceptions outweigh the right to the Confrontation Clause. These are as follows: 

  • In the case of hearsay, or statements that are made by someone who is not present in court and cannot be cross-examined, they can be excluded from the trial. To this rule, there are still exceptions. Exceptions are made for someone who is dying or who is being diagnosed with a medical condition.
  • Witnesses who are minor children may not be forced to face the defendant. They can testify through a closed-circuit television or through an electronic communication system. This only happens if the court determines that testifying in open court will be an emotionally traumatic experience for the child. 
  • Witness statements may be used in court, even if the witness who gave the statement is not there to testify to the contents of the statement. For instance, if the witness’s statement is recorded in the police record, it may be used in court. 
  • Prior statements can be admitted to the court record even if the witness has chosen not to participate in the trial. Suppose a witness offered a statement to the police that differs from their testimony on the witness stand. The original statement not agreeing with the current one can bring the witness’s credibility into question.

The Right to Confrontation is Yours

If you are charged with a crime, it is your legal right to cross-examine witnesses who testify against you. If you are in Texas, this is not only a United States Constitutional right but also codified in the state’s constitution. The Code of Criminal Procedure in Texas further underlines the importance of this essential right.

If you have questions about the Confrontation Clause and how it might affect your criminal case, reach out to the experts at the Law Office of David A. Breston for guidance.