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Confrontation Clause Essay

1584 words - 6 pages

In the United States criminal justice system, the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. With this concept in mind, the accused are given many rights to a fair trial. One of those rights falls under the sixth amendment in the United States Constitution. The confrontation clause reads, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” West’s Encyclopedia of American Law defines the confrontation clause as, “A fundamental right of a defendant in a criminal action to come face-to-face with an adverse witness in the court’s presence so the defendant has a fair chance to object the testimony of the witness, and the opportunity to cross-examine him or her” (Lehman & Shirelle, 2005, p. 85) The confrontation clause is essential to due process and pertains to the federal and state court. In some circumstances the accused is not being given the right to confront witness testimony face-to-face because the justice system grants exceptions to this constitutional right.
The right to confront one’s accuser originates from English Common law and dates back to before the American Revolution (Lehman & Shirelle, 2005, p. 86). Four centuries ago, in 1603, Sir Walter Raleigh was accused of treason. There was no witness and the only proof was a written statement (Richey, 2003, p. 2). The prosecutor and judge denied Raleigh a chance to confront his accuser in court. Consequently, Raleigh was found guilty and sentenced to death. It is said by many that Sir Walter Raleigh’s infamous trial is most likely the catalyst for the Confrontation Clause (King, 2010, p. 31) The Salem Witch Trials in Massachusetts also initiated the need for the accused to confront their accusers, and by the end of the sixteenth century, most of the other colonies had adopted the right to confrontation (Lehman & Shirelle, 2005, p. 86). The need to confront an accuser in court was a fixed right by this time that was offered no argument when it was included in the Bill of Rights.
The confrontation clause serves many purposes. It allows open testimony in court which makes certain that the witness testimony is not coerced or a result of torture or intimidation, unlike in the colonial days (Friedman, p. 441). Confrontation also offers the defendant or defense counsel to debate witness testimony to challenge the validity in the witness’s testimony (Friedman, p. 441). Cross-examination is used today to confront witnesses on the stand. The United States Supreme court agrees with John Henry Wigmore’s statement on cross-examination as, “beyond any doubt the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth” (Friedman, p. 441). Another constituent of the confrontation clause is the deterrence of dishonesty and it can sometimes uncover untruthfulness. Many people believe the idea of testifying under oath in the company of the accused can dissuade false accusations against the accused (Friedman, p....

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