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Montana Court Rules Testimony Via Two-Way Video Violates a DUI Defendant’s Right to Confront Witnesses

People accused of committing DUI offenses, like all criminal defendants, are afforded numerous rights under the United States Constitution. For example, under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment, they have the right to examine their accusers at trial. If the State violates a criminal defendant’s Constitutional rights, the violation may constitute grounds for an appeal. The question of whether the use of two-way video conferencing violated the rights granted under the Confrontation Clause was the topic of a recent ruling issued in Montana. While the opinion does not impact the prosecution of DUI cases in Illinois, it provides insight into how courts may rule on similar issues. If you are accused of a DUI crime, it is smart to meet with an Illinois DUI defense lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your rights.

The Montana Case

It is reported that the defendant was stopped by the police for suspicion of a DUI. He was subsequently arrested and charged with DUI. The case proceeded to trial before a jury. The arresting officer was not present in the courtroom during the trial but appeared via two-way video. The jury convicted the defendant, and he appealed, arguing, in part, that the court violated his right to confrontation by permitting the officer to testify through two-way video conferencing instead of appearing in court in person.

The court agreed, noting that in criminal prosecutions, defendants have the right to meet the State’s witnesses face to face and to fully examine them. The court elaborated that confrontation ensures that the evidence offered against a defendant is reliable. Thus, pursuant to Montana’s confrontation clause, witnesses may only testify via two-way video when securing the witness’ presence is impossible or impractical. The court ultimately found that the State failed to prove that the use of two-way video was warranted.  As such, it reversed the defendant’s conviction.

Illinois’ Position on Video Testimony

The discrete issue of whether testimony via two-way video conference violates the Confrontation Clause has not been addressed by the Illinois courts. The courts have permitted the introduction of video testimony into evidence, however. Specifically, in People v. Terry Hood, the court found that the use of a video deposition in lieu of live testimony did not violate the Confrontation Clause. The court elaborated that because the State’s witness had been subject to cross-examination, the video evidence could be admitted under Illinois Rule of Evidence 804(b)(1) as an exception to the hearsay rule. Thus, the deposition was entered into evidence and played for the jury.

Meet with a Trusted Illinois DUI Defense Attorney

In Illinois, DUI defendants have the right to confront any witnesses the State introduces against them, and if they are convicted without being permitted to exercise that right, they may be able to obtain a reversal. If you are charged with a DUI crime, it is in your best interest to meet with an attorney to discuss your options for protecting your liberties.  Theodore J. Harvatin, of the Harvatin Law Offices, PC, is a trusted Illinois DUI defense lawyer who can advise you of your rights and help you fight to seek a favorable legal outcome. You can reach Mr. Harvatin by calling 217.525.0520 or via the online form to set up a meeting.

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