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U.S. Supreme Court

No. 02—9410
March 8, 2004

Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the Court.

Petitioner Michael Crawford stabbed a man who allegedly tried to rape his wife, Sylvia. At his trial, the State played for the jury Sylvia’s tape-recorded statement to the police describing the stabbing, even though he had no opportunity for cross-examination. The Washington Supreme Court upheld petitioner’s conviction after determining that Sylvia’s statement was reliable. The question presented is whether this procedure complied with the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee that, “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”

  1. On August 5, 1999, Kenneth Lee was stabbed at his apartment. Police arrested petitioner later that night. After giving petitioner and his wife Miranda warnings, detectives interrogated each of them twice. Petitioner eventually confessed that he and Sylvia had gone in search of Lee because he was upset over an earlier incident in which Lee had tried to rape her. The two had found Lee at his apartment, and a fight ensued in which Lee was stabbed in the torso and petitioner’s hand was cut.

    Petitioner gave the following account of the fight:

    Q.  Okay. Did you ever see anything in [Lee’s] hands?

    A.  I think so, but I’m not positive.

    Q.  Okay, when you think so, what do you mean by that?

    A.  I coulda swore I seen him goin’ for somethin’ before, right before everything happened. He was like reachin’, fiddlin’ around down here and stuff and I just I don’t know, I think, this is just a possibility, but I think, I think that he pulled somethin’ out and I grabbed for it and that’s how I got cut but I’m not positive. I, I, my mind goes blank when things like this happen. I mean, I just, I remember things wrong, I remember things that just doesn’t, don’t make sense to me later.” App. 155 (punctuation added).

    Sylvia generally corroborated petitioner’s story about the events leading up to the fight, but her account of the fight itself was arguably different–particularly with respect to whether Lee had drawn a weapon before petitioner assaulted him:

    Q.  Did Kenny do anything to fight back from this assault?

    A.  (pausing) I know he reached into his pocket or somethin’ I don’t know what.

    Q.  After he was stabbed?

    A.  He saw Michael coming up. He lifted his hand his chest open, he might [have] went to go strike his hand out or something and then (inaudible).

    Q.  Okay, you, you gotta speak up.

    A.  Okay, he lifted his hand over his head maybe to strike Michael’s hand down or something and then he put his hands in his put his right hand in his right pocket took a step back Michael proceeded to stab him then his hands were like how do you explain this open arms with his hands open and he fell down and we ran (describing subject holding hands open, palms toward assailant).

    Q.  Okay, when he’s standing there with his open hands, you’re talking about Kenny, correct?

    A.  Yeah, after, after the fact, yes.

    Q.  Did you see anything in his hands at that point?

    A.  (pausing) um um (no).” Id., at 137 (punctuation added).

    The State charged petitioner with assault and attempted murder. At trial, he claimed self-defense. Sylvia did not testify because of the state marital privilege, which generally bars a spouse from testifying without the other spouse’s consent. See Wash. Rev. Code §5.60.060(1) (1994). In Washington, this privilege does not extend to a spouse’s out-of-court statements admissible under a hearsay exception, see State v. Burden, 120 Wash. 2d 371, 377, 841 P.2d 758, 761 (1992), so the State sought to introduce Sylvia’s tape-recorded statements to the police as evidence that the stabbing was not in self-defense. Noting that Sylvia had admitted she led petitioner to Lee’s apartment and thus had facilitated the assault, the State invoked the hearsay exception for statements against penal interest, Wash. Rule Evid. 804(b)(3) (2003).

    Petitioner countered that, state law notwithstanding, admitting the evidence would violate his federal constitutional right to be “confronted with the witnesses against him.” Amdt. 6. According to our description of that right in Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U.S. 56 (1980), it does not bar admission of an unavailable witness’s statement against a criminal defendant if the statement bears “adequate ‘indicia of reliability.’ ” Id., at 66. To meet that test, evidence must either fall within a “firmly rooted hearsay exception” or bear “particularized guarantees of trustworthiness.” Ibid. The trial court here admitted the statement on the latter ground, offering several reasons why it was trustworthy: Sylvia was not shifting blame but rather corroborating her husband’s story that he acted in self-defense or “justified reprisal”; she had direct knowledge as an eyewitness; she was describing recent events; and she was being questioned by a “neutral” law enforcement officer. App. 76—77. The prosecution played the tape for the jury and relied on it in closing, arguing that it was “damning evidence” that “completely refutes [petitioner’s] claim of self-defense.” Tr. 468 (Oct. 21, 1999). The jury convicted petitioner of assault.

    The Washington Court of Appeals reversed. It applied a nine-factor test to determine whether Sylvia’s statement bore particularized guarantees of trustworthiness, and noted several reasons why it did not: The statement contradicted one she had previously given; it was made in response to specific questions; and at one point she admitted she had shut her eyes during the stabbing. The court considered and rejected the State’s argument that Sylvia’s statement was reliable because it coincided with petitioner’s to such a degree that the two “interlocked.” The court determined that, although the two statements agreed about the events leading up to the stabbing, they differed on the issue crucial to petitioner’s self-defense claim: “[Petitioner’s] version asserts that Lee may have had something in his hand when he stabbed him; but Sylvia’s version has Lee grabbing for something only after he has been stabbed.” App. 32.

    The Washington Supreme Court reinstated the conviction, unanimously concluding that, although Sylvia’s statement did not fall under a firmly rooted hearsay exception, it bore guarantees of trustworthiness: “ ‘[W]hen a codefendant’s confession is virtually identical [to, i.e., interlocks with,] that of a defendant, it may be deemed reliable.’ ” 147 Wash. 2d 424, 437, 54 P.3d 656, 663 (2002) (quoting State v. Rice, 120 Wash. 2d 549, 570, 844 P.2d 416, 427 (1993)). The court explained:

    “Although the Court of Appeals concluded that the statements were contradictory, upon closer inspection they appear to overlap.

    “Both of the Crawfords’ statements indicate that Lee was possibly grabbing for a weapon, but they are equally unsure when this event may have taken place. They are also equally unsure how Michael received the cut on his hand, leading the court to question when, if ever, Lee possessed a weapon. In this respect they overlap.

    “Neither Michael nor Sylvia clearly stated that Lee had a weapon in hand from which Michael was simply defending himself. And it is this omission by both that interlocks the statements and makes Sylvia’s statement reliable.” 147 Wash. 2d, at 438— 439, 54 P.3d, at 664 (internal quotation marks omitted).[fn]

    We granted certiorari to determine whether the State’s use of Sylvia’s statement violated the Confrontation Clause. 539 U.S. 914 (2003).