When I was in law school, our torts professor told us of an opinion that opened by describing the plaintiff as “The widow Jones.” You know right away, she’s going to win. Otherwise, she would be “Mrs. Jones.”
Same thing in a recent Supreme Court case. The opening line of Justice Alito’s opinion introduces us to Darius Clark:
Darius Clark sent his girlfriend hundreds of miles away to engage in prostitution and agreed to care for her two young children while she was out of town.
You just know that Mr. Clark is going down.
The Court held that a three-year old’s statements to his preschool teachers about the abuse he endured from Mr. Clark was admissible in the criminal prosecution of the man. The case is about the 6th Amendment and its Confrontation Clause. That’s the provision that guarantees that a person prosecuted for a crime “shall enjoy the right….to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”
In this case, the little boy did not testify, but the court admitted into evidence the statements that he made to his preschool teachers. With that damning evidence in the record, the jury sentenced Mr. Clark to 28 years in prison. Mr. Clark took the matter all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that the judge never should have allowed the little boy’s testimony to be admitted into evidence. The Supreme Court ruled that the evidence was admissible.
Mr. Clark’s argument was based on the state law that required teachers to report suspected child abuse. The argument was that this law effectively transformed preschool teachers into agents of the police. Thus when the teachers asked the little boy about what had happened, and how he got the bruises and black eye, they were supposedly acting as agents of the police, gathering information for the district attorney. This would make the little guy’s statements “testimonial” and thus barred from admission at the trial.
You will probably be pleased to hear that the Supreme Court easily rejected that argument, describing it as “off-base” and “inapt.” Key Quote:
The teachers’ pressing concern was to protect L.P. [the three-year old] and remove him from harms’ way. Like all good teachers, they undoubtedly would have acted with the same purpose whether or not they had a state-law duty to report abuse.
Teachers are not acting on behalf of the police when they question a student to determine if abuse has occurred. They are not criminal investigators hot on the trail of a suspect. They are educators, carrying out their legal, moral and ethical duty to guard against child abuse.
It’s good to see the Supreme Court recognize that. The case is Ohio v. Clark, decided by the Supreme Court on June 18, 2015.
DAWG BONE: THOSE MANDATORY REPORTING LAWS DO NOT TRANSFORM TEACHERS INTO COPS.