Given the contagious nature of COVID-19, courts across the country are wrestling with how to carry out criminal trials without unnecessarily exposing everyone involved to the virus. Last month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in a Michigan sexual assault case discussing an issue that will almost certainly have long-lasting implications in the post-COVICD-19 world. The case required the court to determine whether a defendant’s state and federal right to confront his witnesses was violated when the trial court allowed a key witness to testify over video.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was arrested in 2015 for an alleged sexual assault occurring in 1995. Evidently, while the victim of the alleged assault underwent an examination shortly after the incident, the evidence was not analyzed until 2015, when it was sent to a lab in Utah for analysis. The result of the testing indicated that the defendant’s DNA was present in the sample.
At trial, the prosecution presented the testimony of the lab technician via two-way interactive video. The defendant objected on the basis that allowing the witness to testify over video deprived him of his right to confront the witnesses against him. The trial court overruled the defendant’s objection, and the jury convicted the defendant.