The Supreme Court unanimously ruled Thursday that prosecutors can use statements from children to their teachers about abuse at home.
The decision reverses the Supreme Court of Ohio’s ruling that such statements should be excluded under the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause, which generally prohibits the introduction of “testimonial” statements from a witness not testifying in court.
At issue was the case Ohio v. Clark. It centers on Darius Clark, who was convicted of child abuse, and the statements Clark’s 3-year-old son, L.P., made to his teacher identifying Clark as his abuser.
Clark argues those statements should never have been introduced as evidence of his guilt at trial because he is entitled to confront any witnesses testifying against him under the Sixth Amendment.
Though statements to individuals other than law enforcement are not typically outside the Sixth Amendment’s reach, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito said the fact that L.P. was speaking to his teacher is highly relevant.
“Statements to individuals who are not principally charged with uncovering and prosecuting criminal behavior are significantly less likely to be testimonial than those given to law enforcement officers,” he said. “Clark’s arguments to the contrary are unpersuasive.”
He went on to say that a teacher’s mandatory obligation to report abuse does not convert a conversation between a concerned teacher and her student into a law enforcement mission aimed at gathering evidence for prosecution.
The case was sent back to the lower court.