The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that Cleveland prosecutors acted constitutionally when they relied on what an abused child told his teachers to convict a man of felonious assault.
In a unanimous decision, the justices overturned a decision last year by the Ohio Supreme Court in which the state justices threw out the conviction of Darius Clark because he was not given the right to confront his accuser.
Because the child was so young, he was not deemed competent to testify at the trial, forcing prosecutors to rely on what he told his preschool teachers about the abuse.
Writing for the court, Justice Samuel Alito ruled that “we have never suggested” that the Constitution “bars the introduction of all out-of-court statements that support the prosecution’s case.”
Alito wrote when the child told the teachers about his injuries, it was not “for the primary purpose of assisting in Clark’s prosecution” and could be admitted as evidence at trial. Under the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a defendant has the right to confront the witnesses testifying against him or her.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, who appealed the state court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, said the “decision is a great victory for protecting Ohio’s children.”
“The court unanimously decided that children telling their teachers they have been abused is not the same as speaking to law enforcement or prosecutors,” DeWine said. “This is an important ruling that preserves Ohio’s strong reporting system for protecting children from child abuse.”
The court’s decision will lead to the re-instatement of Clark’s conviction.
According to case records, in 2008, Clark moved in with his girlfriend, who had a 3-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter. In 2010, while his girlfriend was out of town, Clark dropped the young boy off at a Head Start center in Cleveland where one of the teachers noticed injuries around his left eye.
Eventually, the young boy said Clark had caused the injuries. Physicians later determined that both the boy and his sister were suffering from injuries.
Because the boy was not allowed to testify at Clark's trial, the judge allowed school officials to testify about what the boy told them. Clark was convicted of felonious assault on both the girl and the boy, who are not identified in court papers, and sentenced to 28 years in prison.
A state court of appeals threw out the conviction because Clark could not confront his accuser, and the state supreme court upheld that ruling.