In the year 1603, Sir Walter Raleigh…


In 1603, the Crown in England charged Sir Walter Raleigh with high treason for allegedly plotting to kill King James I. A co-conspirator was interrogated and signed a sworn confession, implicating Sir Walter Raleigh and the plot. During trial, the King used this Crown procured testimony of the co-conspirator against Sir Walter Raleigh. Sir Walter Raleigh demanded that the co-conspirator be brought before the court so Sir Walter Raleigh might interrogate him face to face. The judges refused not only to bring the co-conspirator to court to testify, but also to use a subsequent letter signed by the co-conspirator exonerating Sir Walter Raleigh. Sir Walter Raleigh was convicted of treason and sentenced to be “hanged, drawn and quartered”.

Many scholars cite the Sir Walter Raleigh trial as the birth of the right of confrontation in American courts. The founders were concerned about the use of out of court statements of witnesses being used in court for convictions. The Sixth Amendment to our United States Constitution states that an accused has a right to be confronted with the witnesses against him. Sounds simple – doesn’t it?

Well, the U.S. Supreme Court, in the case of Crawford vs. Washington, held that only “testimonial” out of court statements are barred from the confrontation clause – that is, that a criminal court can admit “non-testimonial” hearsay at will against defendants without violating the Sixth Amendment. Crawford was a case from our state and was decided in 2004. Since then, the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as many courts across the nation, have attempted to define “testimonial”. In doing so, courts have chipped away at an accused’s rights as initially intended under the Sixth Amendment.

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