The Supreme Court upheld a criminal conviction based on a six-year-old child’s testimony that was displayed in the courtroom by a one-way closed-circuit television rather than given in person.

A Maryland law specified that a judge might allow the testimony of a young child to be televised if the judge determined that the child’s appearance in the courtroom would result in serious emotional distress, preventing the child from reasonably responding to questions. After Sandra Craig was found guilty of child abuse in a trial using this procedure, she asserted that her conviction was unconstitutional because she had not had an opportunity to confront her accuser.Witnesses, confrontation of;Maryland v. Craig[Maryland v. Craig]

Speaking for a 5-4 majority, Justice Sandra Day O’ConnorO’Connor, Sandra Day[OConnor, Sandra Day];Maryland v. Craig[Maryland v. Craig] argued that the Sixth Amendment did not guarantee criminal defendants an absolute right to face-to-face meetings with witnesses at trial. Rather, the main purpose of the confrontation clause was to ensure the reliability of evidence by rigorously testing it in an adversary proceeding. In some instances, moreover, she concluded, the state’s interest in the psychological well-being of a child outweighs a defendant’s right to confront witnesses in court. Stating that exceptions to face-to-face confrontations must be “case specific,” she remanded the case to the lower courts for further proceedings. In a strong dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia scolded the majority for ignoring an explicit guarantee of the Sixth Amendment.

The Craig decision left many questions unanswered about the use of children’s testimony. In a companion case, Idaho v. Wright[case]Idaho v. Wright[Idaho v. Wright] (1990), the Court found that hearsay evidence (a physician’s account of his interview with allegedly abused children) must be excluded unless such evidence can be shown to be trustworthy. In White v. Illinois[case]White v. Illinois[White v. Illinois] (1992), nevertheless, the Court held that the confrontation clause did not prohibit the admission of testimony recalling a child’s “spontaneous declaration” made to police and doctors.

Due process, procedural

Pointer v. Texas

Sixth Amendment

Witnesses, confrontation of