Kentucky v. Stincer

482 U. S. 730

June 19, 1987

Sergio Stincer raped two elementary school age girls. At trial, the judge interviewed the girls out of Stincer’s presence to determine if they were competent to testify. Stincer protested that this abridged his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation, as well as his right to Due Process.

Blackmun wrote for a 6-3 majority. He said that confrontation’s chief purpose was cross-examination. Stincer had a full opportunity to cross examine the girls afterward on the same subject matter that the judge talked to them about. Blackmun found it significant that the competency hearing did not touch any of the substantive matters of the case, and only determined if the girls had the capability of telling truth. Because of the innocuous nature of the questions asked at competency hearing, the majority also declined to find a Due Process violation.

Mashall wrote a dissent joined by Brennan and Stevens. He posited that the confrontation clause encompassed more than cross-examination – it was a general right to be face-to-face with a witness at all relevant times. Marshall also pointed out how exclusion cost a defendant the opportunity to flag factual errors uttered by the witness at a competency hearing. Finally, since a competency hearing makes or breaks the prosecution’s entire case, the dissent stated that Due Process required the defendant’s presence.

I can’t deny it – Marshall made some very strong arguments, and I probably lean toward his side. But I don’t want a man who rapes little girls to go free. This sort of Constitutional violation should not be enough to reverse a conviction. It’s elementary logic and justice that a remedy should be proportional to the harm it addresses, and it’s high time the Supreme Court finally learned that lesson.

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