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Supreme Court Considers Requiring Abuse Victims to Appear in Court

In a decision that could have severe ramifications for victims of domestic violence, the Supreme Court is considering whether plaintiffs in abuse cases are required by the Constitution to appear in court – something that many are afraid to do. “[Requiring in-court testimony] would make it very difficult, if not impossible, to prosecute the vast majority of domestic violence cases,” law professor Joan S. Meier told the Los Angeles Times.

The upcoming decision in these two cases, Adrian Martell Davis v. Washington and Hersel Hammon v. Indiana promises to clarify a 2004 ruling by the court that unless a victim or witness is cross-examined in a courtroom, any “testimonial” statement made outside of court cannot be used as evidence. However, the ruling did not define the meaning of “testimonial,” the New York Times reports, and so up to this point the law has been open to interpretation. The Bush administration and prosecutors in 27 states have urged the court to allow certain kinds of statements – such as recorded calls to 911 or comments made to police at the time of the crime – to be used as evidence even in the absence of court testimony from the victim. The use of such materials is called “evidence-based prosecution,” and has been used to great effect in prosecuting abusers.

In an amicus brief submitted to the Supreme Court, the National Network to End Domestic Violence and several women’s rights groups cautioned that “mandated victim participation willÉ [lead]É to the revictimization of the victims by the very system designed to protect them.” Instead, these groups urge the court to reaffirm lower court rulings that “evidence-based prosecution” is not a form of testimony that would require victims to appear in court.

Sources:

Los Angeles Times 03/20/2006; New York Times 03/21/2006; NNEDV Amicus Brief

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