UPDATES & ANALYSIS

12.16

Iowa Supreme Court Excludes Testimony Under the Confrontation Clause

by Ryan Koopmans | December 16, 2011

By Ryan Koopmans

The Iowa Supreme Court decided today in State v. Rainsong that a deposition that does not conform with the Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure is not a deposition at all; it is a sworn statement.  And because sworn statements are testimonial hearsay, they are not admissible in trial against a criminal defendant under the Confrontation Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The issue arose in this case because the alleged victim, Loren Radford, lives out of state and is in poor health.  Fearing that Radford would not be able to make the trip to Iowa for trial, the prosecutor noticed Radford’s deposition in Oregon and notified defense counsel that he intended to use the deposition in lieu of live trial testimony.  Defense counsel nonetheless refused to participate in the deposition–either by traveling to Oregon or by video conference in Iowa.

The prosecutor took Radford’s deposition anyway, and then sought to introduce it at trial.  The defense objected, and the judge excluded the taped interview.

The Iowa Supreme Court affirmed that decision.  Under the Iowa Rules of Criminal Procedure, the State may depose an individual if: (1) he or she is listed in the defendant’s witness list; (2) the defendant deposes the individual; or (3) the district court otherwise grants the State’s motion to do so.

None of those scenarios were present here: The defendant did not list Radford as a potential witness; the defendant did not depose Radford; and the prosecutor did not obtain the district court’s permission to depose Radford.  Thus, because there was no basis for the prosecution to take the deposition under the Rules, the testimony amounted to nothing more than a sworn affidavit.  And because affidavits are testimonial hearsay under the Confrontation Clause of the U.S. Constitution, they may not be introduced at trial unless the witness also testifies in person.

Because Radford was not planning to testify, the Iowa Supreme Court agreed with the district court: Radford’s testimony must not be heard by the jury.

[Personal aside: Congratulations to Nyemaster Goode alumnus Vidhya Reddy on her first appearance, and victory, before the Iowa Supreme Court.]

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