Crawford v. Washington

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation541 U.S. 36
Docket NumberNo. 02-9410.,02-9410.
Decision Date08 March 2004

Petitioner was tried for assault and attempted murder. The State sought to introduce a recorded statement that petitioner's wife Sylvia had made during police interrogation, as evidence that the stabbing was not in self-defense. Sylvia did not testify at trial because of Washington's marital privilege. Petitioner argued that admitting the evidence would violate his Sixth Amendment right to be "confronted with the witnesses against him." Under Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U. S. 56, that right does not bar admission of an unavailable witness's statement against a criminal defendant if the statement bears "adequate `indicia of reliability,'" a test met when the evidence either falls within a "firmly rooted hearsay exception" or bears "particularized guarantees of trustworthiness." Id., at 66. The trial court admitted the statement on the latter ground. The State Supreme Court upheld the conviction, deeming the statement reliable because it was nearly identical to, i. e., interlocked with, petitioner's own statement to the police, in that both were ambiguous as to whether the victim had drawn a weapon before petitioner assaulted him.

Held: The State's use of Sylvia's statement violated the Confrontation Clause because, where testimonial statements are at issue, the only indicium of reliability sufficient to satisfy constitutional demands is confrontation. Pp. 42-69.

(a) The Confrontation Clause's text does not alone resolve this case, so this Court turns to the Clause's historical background. That history supports two principles. First, the principal evil at which the Clause was directed was the civil-law mode of criminal procedure, particularly the use of ex parte examinations as evidence against the accused. The Clause's primary object is testimonial hearsay, and interrogations by law enforcement officers fall squarely within that class. Second, the Framers would not have allowed admission of testimonial statements of a witness who did not appear at trial unless he was unavailable to testify and the defendant had had a prior opportunity for cross-examination. English authorities and early state cases indicate that this was the common law at the time of the founding. And the "right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him," Amdt. 6, is most naturally read as a reference to the common-law right of confrontation, admitting only those exceptions established at the time of the founding. See Mattox v. United States, 156 U. S. 237, 243. Pp. 42-56.

(b) This Court's decisions have generally remained faithful to the Confrontation Clause's original meaning. See, e. g., Mattox, supra. Pp. 57-59.

(c) However, the same cannot be said of the rationales of this Court's more recent decisions. See Roberts, supra, at 66. The Roberts test departs from historical principles because it admits statements consisting of ex parte testimony upon a mere reliability finding. Pp. 60-61.

(d) The Confrontation Clause commands that reliability be assessed in a particular manner: by testing in the crucible of cross-examination. Roberts allows a jury to hear evidence, untested by the adversary process, based on a mere judicial determination of reliability, thus replacing the constitutionally prescribed method of assessing reliability with a wholly foreign one. Pp. 61-62.

(e) Roberts' framework is unpredictable. Whether a statement is deemed reliable depends on which factors a judge considers and how much weight he accords each of them. However, the unpardonable vice of the Roberts test is its demonstrated capacity to admit core testimonial statements that the Confrontation Clause plainly meant to exclude. Pp. 62-65.

(f) The instant case is a self-contained demonstration of Roberts' unpredictable and inconsistent application. It also reveals Roberts' failure to interpret the Constitution in a way that secures its intended constraint on judicial discretion. The Constitution prescribes the procedure for determining the reliability of testimony in criminal trials, and this Court, no less than the state courts, lacks authority to replace it with one of its own devising. Pp. 65-68.

147 Wash. 2d 424, 54 P. 3d 656, reversed and remanded.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEVENS, KENNEDY, SOUTER, THOMAS, GINSBURG, and BREYER, JJ., joined. REHNQUIST, C. J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, in which O'CONNOR, J., joined, post, p. 69.


Jeffrey L. Fisher, by appointment of the Court, 540 U. S. 807, argued the cause for petitioner. With him on the briefs was Bruce E. H. Johnson.

Steven C. Sherman argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief was John Michael Jones.

Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance. With him on the brief were Solicitor General Olson, Acting Assistant Attorney General Wray, Sri Srinivasan, and Joel M. Gershowitz.*

JUSTICE SCALIA delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner Michael Crawford stabbed a man who allegedly tried to rape his wife, Sylvia. At his trial, the State played for the jury Sylvia's tape-recorded statement to the police describing the stabbing, even though he had no opportunity for cross-examination. The Washington Supreme Court upheld petitioner's conviction after determining that Sylvia's statement was reliable. The question presented is whether this procedure complied with the Sixth Amendment's guarantee that, "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him."


On August 5, 1999, Kenneth Lee was stabbed at his apartment. Police arrested petitioner later that night. After giving petitioner and his wife Miranda warnings, detectives interrogated each of them twice. Petitioner eventually confessed that he and Sylvia had gone in search of Lee because he was upset over an earlier incident in which Lee had tried to rape her. The two had found Lee at his apartment, and a fight ensued in which Lee was stabbed in the torso and petitioner's hand was cut.

Petitioner gave the following account of the fight:

"Q. Okay. Did you ever see anything in [Lee's] hands?

"A. I think so, but I'm not positive.

"Q. Okay, when you think so, what do you mean by that?

"A. I could a swore I seen him goin' for somethin' before, right before everything happened. He was like reachin', fiddlin' around down here and stuff . . . and I just . . . I don't know, I think, this is just a possibility, but I think, I think that he pulled somethin' out and I grabbed for it and that's how I got cut . . . but I'm not positive. I, I, my mind goes blank when things like this happen. I mean, I just, I remember things wrong, I remember things that just doesn't, don't make sense to me later." App. 155 (punctuation added).

Sylvia generally corroborated petitioner's story about the events leading up to the fight, but her account of the fight itself was arguably different — particularly with respect to whether Lee had drawn a weapon before petitioner assaulted him:

"Q. Did Kenny do anything to fight back from this assault?

"A. (pausing) I know he reached into his pocket . . . or somethin' . . . I don't know what.

"Q. After he was stabbed?

"A. He saw Michael coming up. He lifted his hand . . . his chest open, he might [have] went to go strike his hand out or something and then (inaudible).

"Q. Okay, you, you gotta speak up.

"A. Okay, he lifted his hand over his head maybe to strike Michael's hand down or something and then he put his hands in his . . . put his right hand in his right pocket . . . took a step back . . . Michael proceeded to stab him . . . then his hands were like . . . how do you explain this . . . open arms . . . with his hands open and he fell down . . . and we ran (describing subject holding hands open, palms toward assailant).

"Q. Okay, when he's standing there with his open hands, you're talking about Kenny, correct?

"A. Yeah, after, after the fact, yes.

"Q. Did you see anything in his hands at that point?

"A. (pausing) um um (no)." Id., at 137 (punctuation added).

The State charged petitioner with assault and attempted murder. At trial, he claimed self-defense. Sylvia did not testify because of the state marital privilege, which generally bars a spouse from testifying without the other spouse's consent. See Wash. Rev. Code § 5.60.060(1) (1994). In Washington, this privilege does not extend to a spouse's out-of-court statements admissible under a hearsay exception, see State v. Burden, 120 Wash. 2d 371, 377, 841 P. 2d 758, 761 (1992), so the State sought to introduce Sylvia's tape-recorded statements to the police as evidence that the stabbing was not in self-defense. Noting that Sylvia had admitted she led petitioner to Lee's apartment and thus had facilitated the assault, the State invoked the hearsay exception for statements against penal interest, Wash. Rule Evid. 804(b)(3) (2003).

Petitioner countered that, state law notwithstanding, admitting the evidence would violate his federal constitutional right to be "confronted with the witnesses against him." Amdt. 6. According to our description of that right in Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U. S. 56 (1980), it does not bar admission of an unavailable witness's statement against a criminal defendant if the statement bears "adequate `indicia of reliability.'" Id., at 66. To meet that test, evidence must either fall within a "firmly rooted hearsay exception" or bear "particularized guarantees of trustworthiness." Ibid. The trial court here admitted the statement on the latter ground, offering several reasons why it was trustworthy: Sylvia was not shifting blame but rather corroborating her husband's story that he acted in self-defense or "justified reprisal"; she had direct knowledge as an eyewitness; she was...

To continue reading

Request your trial
16967 cases
  • United States v. Owens, CRIMINAL NO. 4:14-cr-00141-GHD-SAA-1, -15
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Northern District of Mississippi
    • 6 Octubre 2016
    ...impression, that "[t]he massive amount of hearsay testimony allowed by the trial court was error," in light of Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 61, 124 S. Ct. 1354, 158 L. Ed. 2d 177 (2004), which Parker argues effectively abrogated Ohio v. Roberts, 448 US. 56 (1980)—upon which Bourjail......
  • Blakely v. USAA Cas. Ins. Co., Civil No. 2:06-CV-00506 BSJ
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. United States District Court of Utah
    • 10 Diciembre 2012
    ...declaration or affirmation made for the purpose of establishing or proving somefact.'"557 U.S. at 310 (quoting Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 51 (2004) (quoting 2 N. Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828)). 35. (Blakely Decl. at 6.) The oft-referenced May 15, 2......
  • State v. Williamson
    • United States
    • United States State Supreme Court (New Jersey)
    • 10 Mayo 2021
    ...reliable. That conclusion is not challenged before this Court.2 State v. Gross, 121 N.J. 1, 577 A.2d 806 (1990).3 Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S.Ct. 1354, 158 L.Ed.2d 177 (2004).4 In so holding, the Court abrogated the previous test established by Ohio v. Roberts, which "conditi......
  • State v. Martin
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Oregon
    • 28 Julio 2021
    ...the Sixth Amendment in Ohio v. Roberts , 448 U.S. 56, 66, 100 S. Ct. 2531, 65 L. Ed. 2d 597 (1980), abrogated by Crawford v. Washington , 541 U.S. 36, 124 S. Ct. 1354, 158 L. Ed. 2d 177 (2004). Under Roberts , the theory went that there are certain firmly rooted hearsay exceptions that by 4......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
3 firm's commentaries
165 books & journal articles
    • United States
    • South Dakota Law Review Vol. 65 No. 2, June 2020
    • 22 Junio 2020
    ...7-13, 792 N.W.2d 925, 927-28 (interpreting good time credit statutes). (204.) U.S. CONST, amend. VI. (205.) See Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 54 (2004) (holding that right to cross-examination guaranteed by the Confrontation Clause applies only to "testimonial" statements), abrogatin......
    • United States
    • William and Mary Law Review Vol. 63 No. 1, October 2021
    • 1 Octubre 2021
    ...335, 344 (1963) (recognizing right to counsel in criminal cases where defendant is unable to afford an attorney); Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36,68 (2004) (clarifying the right to confront the source of testimonial evidence offered against defendant); Manson v. Brathwaite, 432 U.S. 98,......
  • Trial defense of dui in California
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books California Drunk Driving Law - Volume 1-2 Volume 1
    • 30 Marzo 2022 satisfy the constitutional demands is the one the Constitution actually prescribes: confrontation.” Crawford v. Washington (2004) 541 U.S. 36 (holding that testimonial hearsay is admissible only if the declarant is unavailable and there has been a prior opportunity for cross-examination ......
  • Table of Cases
    • United States
    • James Publishing Practical Law Books Illinois Objections
    • 1 Mayo 2013
    ...391 Ill App 3d 295, 908 NE2d 1091 (2009), §19:70 Cowan v. Wheeler , 76 Ill App 3d 259, 395 NE2d 32 (1979), §17:170 Crawford v. Washington , 541 US 36, 158 L Ed 2d 177, 124 S Ct 1354 (2004), §§6:10, 6:50, 6:70, 6:190, 11:120 Cretton v. Protestant Memorial Medical Center, Inc. , 371 Ill App 3......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT