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The right to confront: When does it apply?

When it comes to criminal proceedings, public attention is mostly focused on trials. However, it is important to remember that such proceedings consist of far more than a trial. There are all kinds of important hearings and processes such proceedings involve prior to a trial. What happens during these hearings and processes can have considerable impacts on a person who has been accused of a crime.

So, during each step of the criminal proceedings taken against them, it can be important for the accused to understand what rights they have and what exactly is at stake during that step. So, having good defense guidance can be important for a defendant throughout all the proceedings that come up in their case.

Among the ways the different proceedings involved in facing criminal charges can vary is in what rights a defendant has in each proceeding. Decisions courts make regarding what rights go along with each type of proceeding can be very impactful.

A recent Wisconsin Supreme Court decision focused on what criminal proceedings the right to confront witnesses applies to.

The case involved a man charged with drunk driving after a traffic stop. During a hearing about whether certain evidence should be suppressed in the case, a dashcam-recorded statement from an officer involved in the stop was allowed to be played on the record. The officer in question had died prior to the suppression hearing.

The man charged with drunk driving claimed that allowing the recorded statement on the record during the hearing violated his right to confront witnesses. In making this assertion, the man argued that the 6th Amendment’s confrontation clause applies to all criminal proceedings, including suppression hearings, rather just trials.

The judge in the case rejected this argument and the man was ultimately convicted of drunk driving. When a state appeals court heard the case, it too rejected the man’s argument.

The matter then went before the state supreme court. The Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision upheld the rulings of the lower courts. The court ruled that the right to confront witnesses does not extend to suppression hearings, but rather is just a trial right. It also ruled that allowing the recorded statement in the suppression hearing didn’t violate the man’s due process rights under the 14th amendment.

One wonders what overall impacts this new state supreme court precedent will have on criminal proceedings here in Wisconsin.

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