The United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Ohio v. Clark on March 2, 2015. Two questions are presented to the Court: (1) Whether an individual's obligation to report suspected child abuse makes that individual an agent of law enforcement for purposes of the Confrontation Clause; and (2) whether a child's out-of-court statements to a teacher in response to the teacher's concerns about potential child abuse qualify as “testimonial” statements subject to the Confrontation Clause. On March 17, 2010, a Cleveland preschool teacher noticed injuries to a three-year-old student. When asked, the child indicated that her mother’s boyfriend, Darius Clark, had caused the injuries. Clark was arrested and convicted of child abuse after the teacher relayed her concerns to a child-abuse hotline, as required by state law. On appeal Clark claimed that the admission of the child’s out-of-court statements to the teacher violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him. The Supreme Court of Ohio agreed, holding 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. Because the child was not in immediate danger of further injury, the out-of-court statement could not be admitted.
- John C. Richter, Partner, King & Spalding