Giles was convicted of murder for killing his ex-girlfriend. At trial, he claimed that the killing was committed in self-defense. Over Giles's objection, the trial court admitted the victim's prior statements to a police officer who had been investigating a report of domestic violence involving Giles and the victim. The victim told the investigating officer that during that incident, which occurred a few weeks before the killing; Giles had held a knife to her and threatened to kill her.
The court of appeals affirmed the trial court's ruling, applying the equitable doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing. The forfeiture by wrongdoing doctrine provides that a defendant loses the right to object to evidence on confrontation grounds to the admission of out-of-court statements of a witness whose unavailability the defendant caused.
The California Supreme Court affirmed. The Court held that Crawford v. Washington did not eliminate the doctrine of forfeiture by wrongdoing, which is an an equitable principle and does not assess the reliability of a hearsay statement. It also held that the doctrine applied even if there is no evidence that the defendant acted with the intent to eliminate the availability of the witness. Finally, it held that the doctrine applied when the alleged “wrongdoing” is the same as the offense for which the defendant was on trial, subject to several limitations. First, the witness should be genuinely unavailable to testify and the unavailability for cross-examination should be caused by the defendant's intentional criminal act. Second, a trial court cannot make a forfeiture finding based solely on the unavailable witness's unconfronted testimony; there must be independent corroborative evidence that supports the forfeiture finding.
In Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 62 (2004), this Court recognized that the forfeiture by wrongdoing rule “extinguishes confrontation claims on essentially equitable grounds.” The question presented by this case is:
Does a criminal defendant “forfeit” his or her Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause claims upon a mere showing that the defendant has caused the unavailability of a witness, as some courts have held, or must there also be an additional showing that the defendant’s actions were undertaken for the purpose of preventing the witness from testifying, as other courts have held?