Ohio v. Roberts Case Brief

Why is the case important?

Defendant, Herschel Roberts, was charged with forgery for writing checks in the name of Bernard Isaacs. Defendant was able to question Isaac’s daughter, Anita Isaacs, at a preliminary hearing, but she failed to appear for the trial. Therefore the state introduced the record of the preliminary hearing as evidence.

Facts of the case

“On January 7, 1975, police arrested Herschel Roberts in Lake County, Ohio. Roberts was charged with forgery of a check in the name of Bernard Isaacs and of possessing stolen credit cards belonging to Amy Isaacs. At the preliminary hearing on January 10, Roberts’ lawyer called the Isaacs’ daughter, Anita, as a witness to testify that she knew Roberts and allowed him to use her apartment while she was away. The attorney attempted to elicit testimony from Anita that she gave Roberts the checks and credit cards without telling him that she did not have permission to do so. Ms. Isaacs would not admit to these actions, and Roberts’ attorney did not ask the court to declare her a hostile witness or place her on cross-examination. When Ms. Isaacs failed to respond to five subpoenas to appear at Roberts’ subsequent criminal trial, the state entered the transcript of her earlier testimony into evidence, as allowed by an Ohio Statute.After being convicted by the trial court, Roberts appealed on the grounds that the admission of the prior testimony violated the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. The Ohio Court of Appeals reversed the conviction and the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed.”

Question

The issue is whether the preliminary hearing testimony by an unavailable witness is admissible.

Answer

The admission of the preliminary hearing testimony does not violate Defendant’s rights under the Confrontation Clause of the United States Constitution. The witness was unavailable, but the prosecution made a good-faith effort in trying to locate her. There were also several factors that demonstrated the reliability of her testimony such as Defendant’s counsel asked her leading questions at length during the preliminary hearing.

Conclusion

The Court held that the introduction in evidence of the preliminary hearing testimony of the witness did not violate the confrontation clause of the Sixth Amendment , since the witness’ prior testimony bore sufficient indicia of reliability and afforded the trier of fact a satisfactory basis for evaluating the truth of the prior statement, even though defense counsel’s questioning of the witness occurred on direct examination–counsel’s questioning being replete with leading questions and comporting with the principal purpose of cross-examination to challenge the declarant’s truth-telling, perception, memory, and meaning–and even though the witness was not personally available for questioning at trial and the defendant had a different lawyer at trial from the one at the preliminary hearing. Furthermore, the record disclosed that the witness was constitutionally unavailable for purposes of the defendant’s trial.

  • Case Brief: 1980
  • Petitioner: Ohio
  • Respondent: Herschel Roberts
  • Decided by: Burger Court

Citation: 448 US 56 (1980)
Argued: Nov 26, 1979
Decided: Jun 25, 1980
Granted Apr 16, 1979