Coy v. Iowa 487 U.S. 1012 (1988)

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COY v. IOWA 487 U.S. 1012 (1988)

Coy was convicted of sexually assaulting two thirteen-yearold girls. During his trial, the girls gave testimony in front of a screen that blocked Coy from their sight. Coy claimed that use of the screen violated his right to confrontation guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that face-to-face examination of witnesses testifying at trial is a fundamental guarantee of the confrontation clause.

Writing for the majority, Justice antonin scalia argued that open accusations seem integral to the very idea of fairness; moreover, face-to-face confrontation serves the end of truth because it is more difficult for witnesses to lie (or lie convincingly) when they must do so to the face of the person their testimony will harm. Scalia argued that the Court's previously carved out exceptions to the confrontation clause were inapposite because they dealt with out-of-court statements and not testimony given during trial. Whether there may be exceptions to the confrontation clause even at trial, Scalia was unwilling to say. All he would acknowledge is that if such exceptions exist they must be "necessary to further an important public policy."

Justice sandra day o'connor, in one of her characteristically narrow concurrences, claimed that nothing in the ruling should be construed as forbidding state efforts to protect child witnesses, and she listed several types of state action that she thought would not raise a "substantial Confrontation Clause problem." O'Connor also seized on the majority's concession that exceptions to the confrontation clause may exist when "necessary to further an important public policy." The key word, O'Connor pointed out, was "necessary," and this would likely be the focus of future litigation. It was; and in 1990, the Court took up the issue again in maryland v. craig.

John G. West, Jr.