Ricketts v. Adamson (1987) was a U.S. Supreme Court case that established the right of criminal defendants to confront witnesses against them, even if those witnesses had died before trial.
In Ricketts v. Adamson (1987), the U.S. Supreme Court considered whether a criminal defendant’s right to confront witnesses against them had been violated when a key witness had died before trial. The defendant, Ricketts, had been convicted of murder largely on the basis of a witness’s statement to police, but that witness had died before trial, and the prosecution was allowed to introduce the statement as evidence against Ricketts.
The Supreme Court held that the prosecution’s use of the witness’s statement violated Ricketts’ Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him. The Court held that the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment, which guarantees a criminal defendant the right to confront witnesses against them, applies not only to live witnesses but also to testimonial hearsay statements made by witnesses who are unavailable for cross-examination.
The Court further held that the prosecution had not satisfied the requirements for introducing hearsay evidence under the Confrontation Clause. To introduce hearsay evidence against a defendant, the prosecution must show that the declarant is unavailable as a witness and that the hearsay statement falls within a firmly rooted hearsay exception or bears particularized guarantees of trustworthiness.
The Court’s ruling in Ricketts v. Adamson established an important precedent for the protection of criminal defendants’ rights. The right to confront witnesses against them is a critical safeguard against wrongful convictions, as it allows defendants to challenge the credibility of the evidence against them and to cross-examine witnesses in open court. The ruling also affirmed the principle that the Confrontation Clause applies to testimonial hearsay statements, even if the declarant is unavailable for cross-examination.