Crawford v. Washington, No. 02-9410.

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtScalia
Citation541 U.S. 36
Decision Date08 March 2004
Docket NumberNo. 02-9410.
PartiesCRAWFORD v. WASHINGTON.
541 U.S. 36
CRAWFORD
v.
WASHINGTON.
No. 02-9410.
Supreme Court of United States.
Argued November 10, 2003.
Decided March 8, 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.

[541 U.S. 37]

(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.

CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF WASHINGTON.

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

[541 U.S. 38]

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."

I

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

541 U.S. 39

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?

541 U.S. 40

"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...

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16313 practice notes
  • U.S. v. Vega Molina, No. 03-1625.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • 19 Mayo 2005
    ...out-of-court statements may be admitted against criminal defendants only in certain limited circumstances. See Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S.Ct. 1354, 1374, 158 L.Ed.2d 177 Against this backdrop, Zuñiga and Vega asseverate that the admission against them of Agent López's testim......
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    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
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    ...to suppress.”); United States v. Hernandez, 778 F.Supp.2d 1211,1226 (D.N.M.2011) (Browning, J.) (concluding “that Crawford v. Washington[, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S.Ct. 1354, 158 L.Ed.2d 177 (2004),] does not apply to detention hearings”). Thus, assuming the evidence had impeachment value, there w......
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    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • 17 Febrero 2009
    ...the petitioner's claim lacked merit. He applied the Supreme Court's watershed Confrontation Clause decision of Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S.Ct. 1354, 158 L.Ed.2d 177 (2004), which was handed down just a few weeks before the state court of appeals issued its opinion in the peti......
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    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of Kentucky
    • 7 Enero 2013
    ...address constitutional issues that arise from the confrontation clause of the Sixth Amendment as interpreted by Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 51–52, 124 S.Ct. 1354, 158 L.Ed.2d 177 (2004) and its progeny. See, Melendez–Diaz v. Mass., 557 U.S. 305, 129 S.Ct. 2527, 2531, 174 L.Ed.2d 31......
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16215 cases
  • U.S. v. Vega Molina, No. 03-1625.
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (1st Circuit)
    • 19 Mayo 2005
    ...out-of-court statements may be admitted against criminal defendants only in certain limited circumstances. See Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S.Ct. 1354, 1374, 158 L.Ed.2d 177 Against this backdrop, Zuñiga and Vega asseverate that the admission against them of Agent López's testim......
  • United States v. Harmon, No. CR 10–1760 JB.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
    • 10 Mayo 2012
    ...to suppress.”); United States v. Hernandez, 778 F.Supp.2d 1211,1226 (D.N.M.2011) (Browning, J.) (concluding “that Crawford v. Washington[, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S.Ct. 1354, 158 L.Ed.2d 177 (2004),] does not apply to detention hearings”). Thus, assuming the evidence had impeachment value, there w......
  • Al-Timimi v. Jackson, Civil No. 05-10266.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Michigan)
    • 17 Febrero 2009
    ...the petitioner's claim lacked merit. He applied the Supreme Court's watershed Confrontation Clause decision of Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S.Ct. 1354, 158 L.Ed.2d 177 (2004), which was handed down just a few weeks before the state court of appeals issued its opinion in the peti......
  • United States v. Thurman, Criminal Action No. 3:10CR107–H.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court of Western District of Kentucky
    • 7 Enero 2013
    ...address constitutional issues that arise from the confrontation clause of the Sixth Amendment as interpreted by Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 51–52, 124 S.Ct. 1354, 158 L.Ed.2d 177 (2004) and its progeny. See, Melendez–Diaz v. Mass., 557 U.S. 305, 129 S.Ct. 2527, 2531, 174 L.Ed.2d 31......
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    • American Criminal Law Review Nbr. 58-3, July 2021
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    ...or commercial interstate carrier, even though the delivery may be only intrastate”), overruled on other grounds by Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 62–64 (2004); cf. United States v. Marek, 198 F.3d 532, 538 (5th Cir. 1999) (determining intrastate use of Western Union satisf‌ies interst......
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