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Article Title

Confronting Memory Loss

Publication Date

2020

Abstract

The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment grants
“the accused” in “all criminal prosecutions” a right “to be
confronted with the witnesses against him.” A particular
problem occurs when there is a gap in time between the
testimony that is offered and the cross-examination of it, as
where—pursuant to a hearsay exception or exemption—
evidence of a current witness’s prior statement is offered and,
for some intervening reason, her current memory is impaired.
Does this fatally affect the opportunity to “confront” the
witness? The U.S. Supreme Court has, to date, left unclear the
extent to which a memory-impaired witness can afford a
criminal defendant her right to confront. Would, for instance,
it be of any value to permit a defendant the opportunity to cross-
examine a witness claiming no recollection of having seen the
crime or having identified the defendant as the perpetrator?
Should the right to confront simply imply the ability to look
one’s accuser in the eye at trial, or should it necessitate some
degree of opportunity for substantive cross-examination? Two
petitions for certiorari that the U.S. Supreme Court denied in
December 2019—White v. Louisiana and Tapia v. New York—
could have permitted the Court to clarify confrontation rights
in memory loss cases. This Article identifies and discusses eight
key issues arising under the Confrontation Clause in
connection with memory impairment in witnesses. Although
the Court chose not to put these issues to rest in the context of
White or Tapia, we anticipate federal and state courts will be
called upon to answer these issues in the coming years, and we
suspect the Court will eventually need to answer them.

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