124 S. Ct. 1354 (March 8, 2004)
In a decision that promises to generate a host of defense challenges, the United States Supreme Court ruled that statements taken by police officers in the course of interrogations are "testimonial" evidence. Therefore, if the witness who made the statements is legally "unavailable" at the time of trial, in order for the hearsay statements to be admissible, the defendant must have had the opportunity for cross examination.
In the case before the Court, Crawford was charged with assault and attempted murder for stabbing a man whom he believed had tried to rape his wife. His wife looked on while the two men fought. The Crawfords fled the scene and were arrested later that night. The police interrogated the Crawfords and tape recorded their statements. At trial, the wife did not testify, claiming the state marital privilege. The government played her tape recorded statement for the jury by invoking the hearsay exception for statements against penal interest. Crawford appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court and argued that the admission of his wife's statement violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him.
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed and in so doing overruled previous case law decisions. The Court firmly stated that "(s)tatements taken by police officers in the course of interrogations are …testimonial" and absent an opportunity to cross examine the declarant either prior to or during trial, such statements are not admissible.
Note: The scope of this decision is difficult to determine. The Court left "for another day any effort to spell out a comprehensive definition of 'testimonial.'" Likewise, the Court recognized that although "one can imagine various definitions of 'interrogation,' we need not select among them in this case." Even Chief Justice Rehnquist, who dissented from the portion of the ruling that overturned prior case law, noted that "tens of thousands of state prosecutors need answers" as to what kind of "testimony" is covered by the rule.