St. Mary's Law Journal


Over one hundred years ago, the United States Supreme Court recognized the importance of the presumption of innocence in a criminal justice system which is based on due process. The Court declared the presumption of innocence is “the undoubted law, axiomatic, and elementary, and its enforcements lies at the foundation … of our criminal law.” The Court’s changing view of the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause is the most recent contribution to the reduction in the practical value of the presumption of innocence. In Maryland v. Craig, the Court decided that while face-to-face confrontation forms the core of values furthered in Confrontation Clause, the use of closed-circuit television systems for testimony by children testifying in child sexual abuse cases did not violate the Sixth Amendment. In reaching this decision, the Court balanced the rights of the accused against the state’s interest in protecting an alleged victim from the trauma of testifying in the presence of an alleged perpetrator. The Court concluded traditional face-to-face confrontation requirements must give way to policy considerations when child sexual abuse victims are involved. While admirable in its desire to protect, Craig failed to address the damage its Sixth Amendment exceptions causes to the presumption of innocence. By making special accommodations for an alleged victim’s testimony, the trial judge sends a subtle signal to the jury endorsing the veracity of the witness. Accordingly, the use of alternative forms of testimony casts doubt on the presumption of innocence at the critical moment when the State’s key witness takes the stand. Because of the potentially negative impact which alternative forms of testimony have on the defendant’s presumption of innocence, courts should tailor the use of these procedures to ensure they further the narrow goals they are designed to serve.


St. Mary's University School of Law