A criminal defendant has a right to confront and cross examine the State‘s witnesses under the 6th Amendment.
This is the chief weapon for domestic violence defendants in Albuquerque and throughout New Mexico. The refusal of the alleged victim to testify is the basis for the great majority of the dismissal of these types of cases.
Unfortunately for defendants, this option may be very limited in the future as a result of the New Mexico Court of Appeals ruling in State v. Soliz.
The U.S. Supreme Court of Crawford v. Washington made the right to confrontation of witnesses more explicit when it ruled that a defendant has a right to confront any testimonial witness. The Court stated that when the witness is unavailable, any out of court testimonial statement made by that witness is inadmissible. The question becomes what is “testimonial”? Crawford set out some guidelines with the basic premise being whether or not the statements were given with an eye toward prosecution of the defendant.
The U.S. Supreme Court in Davis v. Washington set further guidelines on the term “testimonial.” The Court in Davis stated that statements are non-testimonial if they are given with the primary purpose of assisting the police in an ongoing emergency.
They are testimonial when there is no such ongoing emergency, and the primary purpose of the statement is to provide information potentially relevant to a subsequent criminal prosecution.
The New Mexico Court of Appeals in State v. Soliz had an opportunity to address the definition of testimonial witness in a domestic violence setting. State v. Soliz involved a domestic violence call to 911.
Soliz girlfriend was frantic and crying when she told the 911 operator that Soliz had just attacked her, he had fled, he had pursued her with the instrument with which he had attacked her, and he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
The Court in Soliz followed Davis fining that the statements by Soliz‘ girlfriend were non-testimonial since made in an emergency situation for the purpose of gaining assistance from the police.
Because they were non-testimonial, they were fully admissible at trial despite her unavailability. In fact, the girlfriend refused to testify or otherwise cooperate in the prosecution of Soliz. This frequently occurs in domestic violence cases.
The ruling in Soliz poses some real potential problems for domestic violence defendants in the future. In essence, Soliz will allow the State to go to trial on the back of a 911 call without the necessity of bringing the victim to trial.
The lack of a victim has in the past been the primary means for getting these cases dismissed. This option is now severely curtailed by Soliz.