Friday, April 07, 2006

Later-arising evidence and adequacy of the opportunity for cross

Crawford, quite properly, gives prosecutors incentive to take the testimony of witnesses before trial, under oath and subject to confrontation, in case the witness is unavailable at the time of trial. It appears to me that prosecutors should do so far more often than they do now and that procedural rules making it difficult to hold such a pretrial examination should be amended. But pretrial examinations inevitably raise the question of whether the opportunity for cross-examination was adequate. One problem is whether counsel had adequate time to prepare. Another, to some extent the other side of the same coin, is whether the earlier opportunity should be deemed inadequate because some information that might have been used in cross and that is available at trial was not available at the time of the earlier proceeding.

In People v. Jurado, 2006 WL 870936, a capital case decided yesterday, the California Supreme Court weighed in. There, the prosecution had taken the "conditional examination" – basically, as I understand it, a deposition held for purposes of preserving testimony – of a key witness, who became unavailable by the time of trial. The prosecution offered the prior examination over the objection that the opportunity for cross was inadequate because the witness had subsequently made an important statement that would have been valuable in cross-examination. The state supreme court rejected this argument, pronouncing flatly, "Absent wrongful failure to timely disclose by the prosecution, a defendant's subsequent discovery of material that might have proved useful in cross-examination is not grounds for excluding otherwise admissible prior testimony at trial."

This issue is a difficult one, posing the question of what is the baseline against which to measure adequacy of the opportunity for cross. On the one hand, it appears that if the trial been held at the time of the prior examination there would have been no basis to contend that the opportunity for cross was inadequate; furthermore, later-arising evidence, such as a new statement by the witness, would not likely require a new trial. On the other hand, if the witness had testified at trial – which is when we expect most witnesses to testify – then the defense would have had the benefit of cross-examining on the basis of the later statement. It may be that the accused could still impeach the witness effectively, even without the witness being present for cross, but it is doubtful that this would eliminate altogether the differential between earlier and later cross.

I am inclined to think that the later time – the time of the trial – is the more appropriate baseline, and that the court should consider how serious is the lost opportunity to cross-examine on the basis of the later-received evidence. This would leave matters rather indeterminate in this area, but that might be better than the broad decision by the California Supreme Court.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Transcripts of Arguments in Davis and Hammon

The transcripts of the arguments in Davis and Hammon are now available. You can get the Davis transcript by clicking here, and the Hammon transcript by clicking here. I'm sure every stammer of mine reported in the transcript is accurate, but there are two words reported inaccurately in the Hammon transcript that I will note here, for whatever it might be worth. On p. 3, line 12, in my very first sentence, it has me using hte word "similar" when I said "simple". And on p. 61, line 18, right in the middle of my peroration it has "abated" when I said "evaded".