Crawford v. Washington

PETITIONER: Michael D. Crawford
RESPONDENT: Washington
LOCATION: Pennsylvania General Assembly

DOCKET NO.: 02-9410
DECIDED BY: Rehnquist Court (1986-2005)
LOWER COURT: Washington Supreme Court

CITATION: 541 US 36 (2004)
GRANTED: Jun 09, 2003
ARGUED: Nov 10, 2003
DECIDED: Mar 08, 2004

Deputy Solicitor General Dreeben - argued the cause for the United States as amicus curiae urging affirmance
Jeffrey L. Fisher - argued the cause for Petitioner
Michael R. Dreeben - argued the cause for Petitioner, on behalf of the United States, as amicus curiae
Steven C. Sherman - argued the cause for Respondent

Facts of the case

Michael Crawford stabbed a man he claimed tried to rape his wife. During Crawford's trial, prosecutors played for the jury his wife's tape-recorded statement to the police describing the stabbing. The statement contradicted Crawford's argument that he stabbed the man in defense of his wife. Because it was pre-recorded, Crawford could not cross-examine the statement. The jury convicted Crawford for assault.

Crawford claimed the playing of his wife's statement, with no chance for cross-examination, violated the Sixth Amendment guarantee that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the be confronted with the witnesses against him." The state supreme court upheld the conviction, relying on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Ohio v. Roberts (1980). That decision allowed the admission of out-of-court testimony against a defendant if that testimony was reliable.


Does playing out-of-court testimony to a jury, with no chance for cross-examination, violate a defendant's Sixth Amendment guarantee that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the be confronted with the witnesses against him?"

Media for Crawford v. Washington

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 10, 2003 in Crawford v. Washington

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - March 08, 2004 in Crawford v. Washington

William H. Rehnquist:

I have the opinion of the Court to announce in No. 02-9410, Crawford against Washington.

The petitioner, Michael Crawford, was convicted by the State of Washington of assault.

Crawford’s wife, Sylvia, was present during the alleged assault.

At trial, Crawford claims self-defense.

The prosecutor responded by playing a tape recorded description of the fight that Sylvia had given during a police interrogation.

The prosecutor called this damning evidence that completely refutes Crawford’s self-defense claim.

Because of the state marital privilege, Sylvia did not testify at trial.

Crawford argued that admitting the tape recorded statement against him violated his Sixth Amendment right to be confronted with the witnesses against him because he had no opportunity to cross-examine Sylvia about her statement.

The Washington Supreme Court affirmed Crawford’s conviction.

It held that even though Crawford had no opportunity for cross-examination, the statement could be admitted if it was reliable.

It sided our decision in Ohio against Roberts which held that hearsay evidence can be admitted even without an opportunity for cross-examination if it bears what we called indicia of reliability either because it falls within a firmly rooted hearsay exception or as a particularized guarantees of trustworthiness.

The court found that Sylvia’s statement had guaranteed of trustworthiness because it overlapped or interlocked with the statement Crawford himself had given the police.

So, the question presented is whether the State violated Crawford’s Sixth Amendment right to be confronted with the witnesses against him.

In an opinion authored by Justice Scalia and filed with the Clerk today, the Court concludes that it did.

The Sixth Amendment was adapted to protect against particular abuses that had occurred in England.

Justices of the peace or other government officers examined witnesses before trial and then read those examinations to the jury without giving the defendant an opportunity for cross-examination.

The most notable example was the trial of Sir Walter Raleigh in 1603 where the Crown’s evidence consisted almost entirely of accomplice’s out-of-court confession implicating Raleigh.

English law developed a right of confrontation to guard against these abuses and the Sixth Amendment made that right part of our Constitution.

This history suggests that the Sixth Amendment was directed primarily at particular kinds of out-of-court statements such as examinations by government officers out of the presence of the defendant.

Sylvia’s interrogation by the police falls squarely within this core class of testimonial statements.

The Court holds that such statements cannot be admitted against the defendant unless the witness is unavailable to testify at trial and the defendant has had a prior opportunity for cross-examination.

That rule must be followed whether or not the judge himself believes that the evidence is reliable.

Where testimonial statements are at issue, the only index of reliability sufficient to satisfy constitutional demands is the one the constitution actually prescribes confrontation.

We reverse the judgment of the Washington Supreme Court and remand the case for further proceedings.

The judgment of the Court is unanimous but I, in an opinion concurring in the judgment joined by Justice O’Connor, would adhere to Ohio against Roberts and decide this case on the ground that the State Court should not have relied on the interlocking nature of the two confessions.