The topic of discussion for this Constitution Monday comes from the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall … be confronted with the witnesses against him….” This provision gives the accused the right to confront the witnesses of his alleged crime and to question them.
W. Cleon Skousen explained that under “the English system of law there was an odious practice of having witnesses make out depositions (written testimonies) which were read to the accused at the time of his trial. This deprived the defendant of the opportunity to confront his witnesses and cross-examine them. It was on the basis of a mere deposition that Sir Walter Raleigh was convicted of treason and beheaded.
“The one exception to the rule against the admission of a written accusation is the declaration by a dying witness, which may be read against the accused on the ground that the `solemnity of the circumstances’ tends to make the testimony creditable.” (See The Making of America – The Substance and Meaning of the Constitution, pp. 708-709.)
John C. Douglass of The Heritage Foundation explained that there was “no record of any debate over the Confrontation Clause in the First Congress. Nevertheless, history offers some guidance to understanding the purpose of the clause. Long before the American Constitution, trials featuring live testimony in open court subject to cross-examination were typical in the English common-law courts. Those who adopted the Sixth Amendment probably had that model in mind, especially in light of the abuses the American colonists knew of or had experienced….” (See The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, p. 354.)