Maryland v. Craig

497 U.S. 836
Brief Filed: 3/90
Court: Supreme Court of the United States
Year of Decision: 1990

Read the full-text amicus brief (PDF, 435KB)

Issue

Whether certain procedural protections such as the use of one-way close circuit television may be afforded to the victims of child abuse when testifying against the accused individual

Index Topics

Child Abuse/Child Witnesses

Facts

A childcare provider was convicted of sexually abusing children in her care. Before the trial, the State invoked a new Maryland procedure for the protection of child witnesses whereby victims of child abuse were permitted to testify at trial via one-way closed-circuit television. The conviction was based primarily on the testimony of the four child victims. The intent of the procedure was to spare the victim from having to directly confront the defendant. In seeking to invoke this procedure, the trial judge was required to first determine that the testimony by the child will result in the child suffering serious emotional distress that the child could not reasonably communicate. On appeal, the Maryland Supreme Court overturned the conviction on the ground that the court failed to adequately justify its decision to allow a child witness to testify via one-way closed-circuit video, in violation of the defendant's right to confront his accusers.

APA Position

APA's brief argued that: (1) sexually abused children frequently suffer serious emotional trauma and may be particularly vulnerable to further distress through the legal process, since child victims suffer emotional distress as a result of their victimization and child victims may be more likely than adult victims to suffer substantial distress as a result of testifying in the physical presence of the defendant; (2) psychological theory and data about the dynamics of sexual abuse victims' emotional distress make possible individualized determinations about the need for protective measures without requiring vulnerable children to directly confront their alleged abusers in every case; and (3) if a vulnerable child victim-witness is required to testify under conditions of high emotional arousal, the confrontation clause interest of providing reliable testimony will not be served because the completeness of the children's testimony is influenced by conditions of emotional arousal and a child witness's lack of completeness in testifying influences juror perceptions of credibility, but does not necessarily enhance the accuracy of juror perceptions of truthfulness or lying.

Results

The U.S. Supreme Court held that it did not violate a defendant's right to confront his accusers if, prior to permitting indirect testimony, the court made a particularized finding that the individual child witness would be traumatized by testifying in the presence of the defendant.