Giles v. California

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  • Violence Against Women and Girls
  • Joined Amicus Brief
2008

Determined whether a defendant forfeits the Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause right where defendant’s wrongful act caused witness’s unavailability.

Summary of the Case

The question before the Supreme Court in this domestic violence murder case was whether a criminal defendant "forfeits" his Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause right to insist that the prosecution produce a live witness to testify against him where the defendant’s wrongful act (in this case murder) caused the unavailability of the witness, or whether forfeiture requires an additional showing that the defendant committed the wrongful act with the specific intention of making the witness unavailable. 

Our Role in the Case

Legal Momentum joined the Domestic Violence Legal Empowerment and Appeals Project (DV LEAP), the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence and other groups to submit an amicus curiae brief examining the history of the doctrine of “forfeiture by wrongdoing” in detail, and arguing that the specific intent to make the witness unavailable is not necessary for the defendant to forfeit the right to confrontation.

Decision

The Supreme Court ruled in a 6-3 decision that the past statement about domestic violence, made by the murder victim to the police, could not be used against Giles because the California courts failed to determine whether the victim was killed specifically to prevent her from testifying against him. If that in fact was the motive for the murder, her statements could be admitted under the doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing. The Court remanded and Giles will be retried.