Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals - Published Opinions

Monday, November 29, 2004

Confrontation in the Digital Age

U.S. v. Yates, No. 02-13654 (Nov. 24, 2004) . The Eleventh Circuit vacated fraud and money laundering convictions based on a violation of the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause. At trial, the government was allowed to introduce, over defense objection, the testimony of two key witnesses via two-way videoconferencing from Australia. The witnesses, who were beyond subpoena power, were willing to testify but not to travel to Alabama to do so. The Court first held that it would apply the two-part test announced in Maryland v. Craig, 497 U.S. 836, 110 S. Ct. 3157 (1990), to determine whether a Sixth Amendment violation had occurred. In Craig, a case dealing with a rule that allowed a child victim of abuse to testify via a one-way closed-circuit video, the Supreme Court held that absence of a physical, face-to-face confrontation does not violate the Sixth Amendment "where denial of such confrontation is necessary to further an important public policy and only where the reliability of the testimony is otherwise assured." Id. at 850, 110 S. Ct. at 3166. The application of the Craig standard is important because in applying Craig, the Eleventh Circuit declined to follow the lead of the Second Circuit which had approved the use of two-way, closed-circuit television to present witness testimony from an undisclosed location outside the courtroom. See United States v. Gigante, 166 F.3d 75 (2d Cir. 1999). In Gigante, the Second Circuit reasoned that the Craig standard only applied in the case of a one-way, closed-circuit transmittal where the witness could not see the defendant. Id. at 81. In contrast, the Eleventh Circuit held that the Craig standard applied anytime that the government sought to deny the defendant a physical, face-to-face confrontation with a witness. Applying Craig and reversing, the Court rejected the government's contention, which had been accepted by the district court, that the testimony served the "important public policy of providing the fact-finder with crucial evidence." Specifically, the Court held that "the prosecutor's need for the testimony in order to make a case and expeditiously resolve it are not public policies that are important enough to outweigh a defendant's right to confront an accuser face-to-face."