Prosecutors can use statements made by victims to 911 operators or police during emergencies if the victims do not testify at trial, the Supreme Court ruled in a pair of cases Monday.
In a case out of Washington state, justices voted 9-0 that a defendant’s right to confront his accuser was not violated because he could not cross-examine a woman who claimed in a 911 call that he had assaulted her.
By an 8-1 vote in a second case, the court ruled that a police officer had crossed the line — from dealing with an emergency to conducting an investigation — when he questioned an Indiana woman about what her husband had done to her well after the assault had taken place.
Justice Clarence Thomas was the lone dissent in the Indiana case, writing that he believed the officer’s testimony about what the woman had told him was admissible in court.
Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said 911 statements can be powerful evidence because they often are made during emergencies. Such evidence can have a profound effect on jurors, increasing chances of convictions for defendants who cannot question the witnesses, he said.
But Scalia said a line must be drawn on when such evidence can be used.
The evidence is admissible in court when police are trying to deal with an emergency, such as domestic violence. But such statements cannot be used if the emergency has ended and police are gathering evidence to use in filing criminal charges, Scalia said.