In the week of March 2, 2015, in Ohio v. Clark, the U.S. Supreme Court Case involving limits of the use of out of court statements of child to teachers in child abuse case. Confrontation Clause issues are implicated.
Facts of the Case
On March 17, 2010, a preschool teacher at Cleveland’s William Patrick Day Head Start Center noticed some facial injuries on one of her three-year-old students. When the teacher inquired about the injuries, the student indicated that his mother’s boyfriend, Darius Clark, caused them. The teacher forwarded her concerns to a child-abuse hotline, which resulted in the arrest and subsequent charging of Clark for child abuse.
Prior to trial, a judge ruled the three-year-old child was incompetent to testify but refused to exclude the child’s out-of-court identification of Clark as his abuser. Clark was found guilty. On appeal Clark claimed that the admission of the child’s out-of-court statements violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him. The Supreme Court of Ohio reversed the lower court’s ruling and held that, because state law required the teacher to report suspected incidences of child abuse, the teacher was acting as an agent for law enforcement when inquiring about the child’s injuries. Therefore, the child’s out-of-court statements could only be admitted if the primary purpose of the teacher’s questioning was to address an ongoing emergency, as opposed to attempting to establish past events. Because the child was not in immediate danger of further injury, the out-of-court statement could not be admitted.
Does a teacher’s obligation to report suspected incidences of child abuse transform the teacher into an agent of law enforcement when questioning children about possible abuse?
This decision will be an important one.
Listen to the oral arguments here.