The Right to Cross-Examine A Witness

Justices Bar Recanted Statement’s Admission Absent Testimony

In State v. Slaughter, decided August 12, 2014 concerns two defendants both accused the other of being the primary killers of a man while the other looked on. The defendant in this particular case claimed that he was smoking a cigarette outside the victim’s home which was also a store, when he heard his friend beating the victim. The friend claimed that he and the defendant entered the victim’s home with the intention to rob him but that the defendant took things too far and beat him to death. The girlfriend of the defendant testified to hearing an ambiguous statement by the defendant in which he said to her “he hope he didn’t kill this [expletive].” The defendant claimed that the “he” referred to his friend and not himself whereas the girlfriend had first quoted it to suggest that she said “he” to mean the defendant, her boyfriend and that she interpreted it to mean the defendant had beaten someone up. At trial the defendant’s girlfriend claimed that she didn’t remember enough to clarify the ambiguity of her previous statement.

Entitlement to Cross Examine Witness held Reversible Error

The trial judge determined that her loss of memory was feigned or pretended and admitted her previous statement into evidence even though she didn’t testify at trial. The Appellate Division affirmed this but the N.J. Supreme Court held that this violated the constitutional rights of the defendant. Firstly the jury heard his girlfriend’s audio-recorded statements but was not able to observe her as a witness and make assessments of credibility. This also denied the defendant’s attorney the ability to cross examine the girlfriend as a witness in front of the jury to test her consistency and the substance of her answers which is critical to determining whether the evidence she provided is reliable. As a result the defendant’s convictions of first degree aggravated manslaughter, second-degree aggravated conspiracy and second-degree aggravated assault were vacated and remanded for a new trial.

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