In Washington, the Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment compulsory process clause and a criminal defendant’s right to present a defense required the abrogation of a state evidentiary rule that prevented the defendant from calling an alleged accomplice as a defense witness.
Charged with murder, Washington testified at his trial that it was his codefendant, Fuller, who fired the fatal shot. When Washington attempted to call Fuller as a defense witness, the prosecution successfully objected on the ground that state law barred codefendants from testifying in each other’s behalf. Prevented from calling Fuller, who would have testified that he indeed fired the fatal shot after Washington had fled the scene, Washington was convicted.
After the Texas state courts rejected his appeals, Washington appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously reversed the conviction. The Court first held that the compulsory process clause was a fundamental part of a defendant’s right to present a defense and, therefore, was essential to due process. The Court then held that these constitutional rights trumped a state rule barring codefendants from testifying for each other because such a rule was arbitrary and did not advance the truth-seeking function of a criminal trial. Washington thus stands for the important proposition that jurisdictions may not rely on arbitrary rules or procedures in order to exclude important defense evidence, a proposition the Court expanded in a series of later cases, including Chambers v. Mississippi (1973), Webb v. Texas (1972), and Cool v. United States (1972).
DAVID A. MORAN
References and Further Reading
Cases and Statutes Cited
See also Chambers v. Mississippi, 410 U.S. 284 (1973); Defense, Right to Present; Due Process; Webb v. Texas, 409 U.S. 95 (1972)