Ah-HA! The Zoom Trial Slap-Down I’ve Been Expecting…

What took so long?

Add one more bit of disruption to order, law and society inflicted by Wuhan Virus Weenie-ism.

The Missouri Supreme Court, in a January 11 decision, held that defendant Rodney Smith’s Sixth Amendment right to confrontation with witnesses against him was violated by two-way live video testimony about DNA evidence.

Of course it was. I’ve been wondering about this since the beginning of the pandemic lock downs. The witness who testified via video against Smith was a police lab employee. He testified that Smith’s DNA matched what was found on the 16-year-old girl who had accused him of sexual assault. The teenager recanted, making the lab employee’s testimony key to Smith’s conviction for statutory rape. Also key: Smith’s lawyer objected on the record to the Zoom testimony. Other defense attorneys have not been so protective of their clients’ right: I view not objecting as justifying an ineffective assistance of counsel appeal.

The Missouri court distinguished a U.S. Supreme Court case, Maryland v. Craig,that allowed one-way video testimony by child-abuse victims who would be traumatized if they could see the defendant. In Smith’s case, it held, the witness “was neither a victim nor a child,” and the trial court had made no finding that he was unavailable. Moreover, the admission of his testimony was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt, so the conviction must be reversed.

The guessing is that this issue will ultimately have to be decided by SCOTUS.

Two appellate courts outside of Missouri courts have reached dueling decisions on video testimony The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that two-way live video testimony did not violate a defendant’s rights, but you know, Minnesota. The Kentucky Court of Appeals, in contrast, upheld a decision denying a prosecutor’s request to allow a witness to testify remotely because of Wuhan virus phobia. “General concerns about the spread of the virus do not justify abridging a defendant’s right to in-person confrontation,” the court said.

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