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United States Supreme Court Examines “Forfeiture By Wrongdoing Doctrine” Post Crawford

In Giles v. California, slip opinion June 25, 2008 the United States Supreme Court examined at the doctrine of forfeiture by wrondoing in the context of its decision in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004).  Giles was convicted for the 1992 shooting and killing his girlfriend.  At trial, prosecutors successfully introduced statements made by the same victim to police concerning an earlier domestic violence incident involving the defendant.  California Evidence Code section 1370 permitted such evidence in situations where 1) the declarant was unavailable, 2) the statement described the infliction or the threat of physical injury on the declarant and 3) the statement was deemed trustworthy. 

The Supreme Court acknowledged two forms of testimonial statements that were admitted at common law even though they went unconfronted.  The first involved dying declarations.  The second involved situations where a witness was kept away by the defendant to eliminate that person’s testimony.  Under the latter exception courts held that a defendant should not benefit from such wrondoing and that “[t]he absence of a forfeiture rule covering this sort of conduct would create an intolerable incentive for defendants” to manipulate, bribe, itimidate, threaten or even kill witnesses against them.  The Court held that the California Evidence Code as interpreted by the California Supreme Court exceeded the context of deliberate witness tampering and in essence violated the tenets of Crawford v. Washington.  The conviction was reversed.

Massachusetts recognizes the forfeiture by wrongdoing law as well.  The seminal case is Commonwealth v. Edwards, 444 Mass. 526 (2005).  Witness tampering in Massachusetts is also a crime in and of itself.  It is defined by G.L. c. 268 sec. 13B.  A conviction of that statute carries a ten year state prison sentence. 

The intimidation of a witness in Massachusetts is viewed as a violent crime.  The penalties for a conviction of this offense are severe.  If charged with any of these acts you should contact our office and speak to one of our Massachusetts Violent Crimes Defense Lawyers now. 

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Giles v. California, slip opinion june 25, 2008