Law Hub

Ohio v. Clark

Justia Summary

Clark sent his girlfriend to engage in prostitution while he cared for her 3-year-old son L.P. and 18-month-old daughter A.T. When L.P.’s preschool teachers noticed marks on his body, he identified Clark as his abuser. At Clark’s trial, the state introduced L.P.’s statements to his teachers as evidence of Clark’s guilt, but L.P. did not testify. The trial court denied Clark’s motion to exclude the statements under the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause. The Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed reversal of his conviction on Confrontation Clause grounds. The Supreme Court reversed. The Confrontation Clause generally prohibits the introduction of “testimonial” statements by a nontestifying witness, unless the witness is “unavailable to testify, and the defendant had had a prior opportunity for cross-examination.” A statement qualifies as testimonial if the “primary purpose” of the conversation was to “creat[e] an out-of-court substitute for trial testimony. Considering all relevant circumstances, L.P.’s statements were not testimonial; they were not made with the primary purpose of creating evidence for Clark’s prosecution. They occurred in the context of an ongoing emergency involving suspected child abuse. L.P.’s teachers asked questions aimed at identifying and ending a threat. L.P. never hinted that he intended his statements to be used by the police or prosecutors; the conversation was informal and spontaneous. Statements by very young children rarely, if ever, implicate the Confrontation Clause. Mandatory reporting obligations do not convert a conversation between a concerned teacher and her student into a law enforcement mission aimed at gathering evidence for prosecution. Whether a statement is testimonial is not determined by examining whether a jury would view the statement as the equivalent of in-court testimony, but by whether a statement was given with the “primary purpose of creating an out-of-court substitute for trial testimony.”

About Author