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U.S. Supreme Court

    1. Controversial examination practices were also used in the Colonies. Early in the 18th century, for example, the Virginia Council protested against the Governor for having “privately issued several commissions to examine witnesses against particular men ex parte,” complaining that “the person accused is not admitted to be confronted with, or defend himself against his defamers.” A Memorial Concerning the Maladministrations of His Excellency Francis Nicholson, reprinted in 9 English Historical Documents 253, 257 (D. Douglas ed. 1955). A decade before the Revolution, England gave jurisdiction over Stamp Act offenses to the admiralty courts, which followed civil-law rather than common-law procedures and thus routinely took testimony by deposition or private judicial examination. See 5 Geo. 3, c. 12, §57 (1765); Pollitt, The Right of Confrontation: Its History and Modern Dress, 8 J. Pub. L. 381, 396—397 (1959). Colonial representatives protested that the Act subverted their rights “by extending the jurisdiction of the courts of admiralty beyond its ancient limits.” Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress §8th (Oct. 19, 1765), reprinted in Sources of Our Liberties 270, 271 (R. Perry & J. Cooper eds. 1959). John Adams, defending a merchant in a high-profile admiralty case, argued: “Examinations of witnesses upon Interrogatories, are only by the Civil Law. Interrogatories are unknown at common Law, and Englishmen and common Lawyers have an aversion to them if not an Abhorrence of them.” Draft of Argument in Sewall v. Hancock (1768—1769), in 2 Legal Papers of John Adams 194, 207 (K. Wroth & H. Zobel eds. 1965).

      Many declarations of rights adopted around the time of the Revolution guaranteed a right of confrontation. See Virginia Declaration of Rights §8 (1776); Pennsylvania Declaration of Rights §IX (1776); Delaware Declaration of Rights §14 (1776); Maryland Declaration of Rights §XIX (1776); North Carolina Declaration of Rights §VII (1776); Vermont Declaration of Rights Ch. I, §X (1777); Massachusetts Declaration of Rights §XII (1780); New Hampshire Bill of Rights §XV (1783), all reprinted in 1 B. Schwartz, The Bill of Rights: A Documentary History 235, 265, 278, 282, 287, 323, 342, 377 (1971). The proposed Federal Constitution, however, did not. At the Massachusetts ratifying convention, Abraham Holmes objected to this omission precisely on the ground that it would lead to civil-law practices: “The mode of trial is altogether indetermined; … whether [the defendant] is to be allowed to confront the witnesses, and have the advantage of cross-examination, we are not yet told… . [W]e shall find Congress possessed of powers enabling them to institute judicatories little less inauspicious than a certain tribunal in Spain, … the Inquisition.” 2 Debates on the Federal Constitution 110—111 (J. Elliot 2d ed. 1863). Similarly, a prominent Antifederalist writing under the pseudonym Federal Farmer criticized the use of “written evidence” while objecting to the omission of a vicinage right: “Nothing can be more essential than the cross examining [of] witnesses, and generally before the triers of the facts in question… . [W]ritten evidence … [is] almost useless; it must be frequently taken ex parte, and but very seldom leads to the proper discovery of truth.” R. Lee, Letter IV by the Federal Farmer (Oct. 15, 1787), reprinted in 1 Schwartz, supra, at 469, 473. The First Congress responded by including the Confrontation Clause in the proposal that became the Sixth Amendment.

      Early state decisions shed light upon the original understanding of the common-law right. State v. Webb, 2 N. C. 103 (1794) (per curiam), decided a mere three years after the adoption of the Sixth Amendment, held that depositions could be read against an accused only if they were taken in his presence. Rejecting a broader reading of the English authorities, the court held: “[I]t is a rule of the common law, founded on natural justice, that no man shall be prejudiced by evidence which he had not the liberty to cross examine.” Id., at 104.

      Similarly, in State v. Campbell, 1 S. C. 124 (1844), South Carolina’s highest law court excluded a deposition taken by a coroner in the absence of the accused. It held: “[I]f we are to decide the question by the established rules of the common law, there could not be a dissenting voice. For, notwithstanding the death of the witness, and whatever the respectability of the court taking the depositions, the solemnity of the occasion and the weight of the testimony, such depositions are ex parte, and, therefore, utterly incompetent.” Id., at 125. The court said that one of the “indispensable conditions” implicitly guaranteed by the State Constitution was that “prosecutions be carried on to the conviction of the accused, by witnesses confronted by him, and subjected to his personal examination.” Ibid.

      Many other decisions are to the same effect. Some early cases went so far as to hold that prior testimony was inadmissible in criminal cases even if the accused had a previous opportunity to cross-examine. See Finn v. Commonwealth, 26 Va. 701, 708 (1827); State v. Atkins, 1 Tenn. 229 (1807) (per curiam). Most courts rejected that view, but only after reaffirming that admissibility depended on a prior opportunity for cross-examination. See United States v. Macomb, 26 F. Cas. 1132, 1133 (No. 15,702) (CC Ill. 1851); State v. Houser, 26 Mo. 431, 435—436 (1858); Kendrick v. State, 29 Tenn. 479, 485—488 (1850); Bostick v. State, 22 Tenn. 344, 345—346 (1842); Commonwealth v. Richards, 35 Mass. 434, 437 (1837); State v. Hill, 2 Hill 607, 608—610 (S. C. 1835); Johnston v. State, 10 Tenn. 58, 59 (1821). Nineteenth-century treatises confirm the rule. See 1 J. Bishop, Criminal Procedure §1093, p. 689 (2d ed. 1872); T. Cooley, Constitutional Limitations *318.