Coy v. Iowa, 487 U.S. 1012 (1988)

2012-06-08 11:23:14

An individual charged with sexually assaulting two young girls was convicted after a jury trial in which a screen placed between him and the girls blocked him from their sight when they testified. In authorizing use of the screen, the trial judge relied on a state statute intended to make child-victims feel less uneasy in giving their testimony.

In Coy v. Iowa, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Sixth Amendment right of a criminal defendant ‘‘to be confronted with the witnesses against him’’ guarantees a face-to-face encounter between a witness and the accused. It reasoned that such an encounter is essential to fairness and to the perception of fairness, in part, because ‘‘[i]it is always more difficult to tell a lie about a person ‘to his face’ than ‘behind his back.’’’ The Court also held that the screen violated the accused’s confrontation right. Without deciding whether any exceptions exist to the requirement of a face-to-face encounter, it concluded that, because the trial judge did not find that the complaining witnesses needed special protection, use of the screen in this case could not fit within any conceivable exception. Two Justices who concurred in the six-member majority opinion, however, believed that the right to a face-to-face encounter is ‘‘not absolute’’ and that use of certain procedural devices designed to protect a child witness from the trauma of testifying in court may sometimes be permissible—a view the Court subsequently adopted in Maryland v. Craig.


References and Further Reading

  • Brustein, Sharon Parker, Coy v. Iowa: Should Children Be Heard and Not Seen? University of Pittsburgh Law Review 50 (1989): 4:1187–1208.
  • Hasselbach, W. Andrew, Placing a Child Victim of Sexual Abuse Behind a Screen During Courtroom Testimony as Violation of Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause: Coy v. Iowa, University of Cincinnati Law Review 57 (1989): 4:1537–1566.
  • LaFave, Wayne R., Jerold H. Israel, and Nancy J. King. Criminal Procedure, 1110–1111, 4th ed., St. Paul: Thompson-West, 2004.

Cases and Statutes Cited

  • Maryland v. Craig, 497 U.S. 836 (1990)

See also Confrontation Clause; Incorporation Doctrine; Maryland v. Craig, 497 U.S. 836 (1990)