- The Washington Times - Monday, June 19, 2006


The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that statements made by crime victims to 911 operators or police during emergencies can be used in court even if those victims do not testify at trial.

Also yesterday, the court ruled that California parolees can routinely be searched by police as a condition of their release from prison.

In a pair of cases regarding victims’ statements, the justices gave a nod to the difficulties of prosecuting domestic-violence cases.

By a 9-0 vote, justices ruled that a Washington man’s right to confront his accuser was not violated because he could not cross-examine his ex-girlfriend, who said in a 911 call that he had assaulted her.

In another case, out of Indiana, the justices ruled 8-1 that a police officer had crossed the line — from dealing with an emergency to conducting an investigation — when he questioned a woman about what her husband had done to her well after she had been assaulted.

By affirming the Washington man’s conviction and reversing the Indiana man’s, however, the justices opened the door for prosecutors and police to gather evidence to show that batterers intimidated their victims into silence and “forfeited” their rights to confront their accusers in court.

Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia said 911 statements are admissible in court when police are trying to deal with an emergency. But such statements cannot be used if the emergency has ended and police are gathering evidence to use in filing criminal charges, he said.

In court filings, several women’s advocacy groups argued that domestic-violence cases are difficult to prosecute because victims are so fearful.

Justice Scalia acknowledged those challenges, writing, “This particular type of crime is notoriously susceptible to intimidation or coercion of the victim to ensure that she does not testify at trial. When this occurs, [it] gives the criminal a windfall.”

In the California search case, justices, by a 6-3 vote, said a 1996 law allowing parolee searches is a legitimate attempt by state officials to deal with a large population of repeat offenders who pose a danger to public safety.

Justice Clarence Thomas, writing for the majority, said California has a “special governmental interest” to control its parolees, an interest that outweighs a parolee’s privacy.

In California, most prisoners eventually receive parole. But before release, each parolee is required to consent in writing to searches by police during the term of their supervision. If they refuse, they are not allowed out of prison.

Justice Thomas said parolees do not have any “expectation of privacy that society would recognize as legitimate” because of the danger posed by California’s large recidivist population.

But Justice John Paul Stevens, writing in dissent, said the majority had “run roughshod” over previous court rulings on unreasonable searches and improperly allowed California to create another form of punishment for its prisoners.

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