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LEGAL REVIEW (R)
|Vol. 38 No. 3||May / Jun 2009|
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Kansas v. Ventris, No. 07-1356 (2009).
Defendant and his codefendant were charged with murder and other crimes. Prior to trial, an informant planted by the police in defendant’s cell heard him admit to shooting and robbing the victim, but defendant testified at trial that his codefendant committed the crimes. When the state sought to call the informant to testify to his contradictory statement, defendant objected. The state argued that even if defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights were violated by use of the informant, the statement was admissible for impeachment purposes. The trial court allowed the testimony. The jury convicted defendant of burglary and robbery. Reversing, the Kansas Supreme Court held that the informant’s statements were not admissible for any purpose, including impeachment. 176 P.2d 920.
In a 7-2 decision and an opinion written by Justice Scalia the United States Supreme Court reversed, ruling defendant’s statement to the informant, concededly obtained in violation of the Sixth Amendment right to counsel, was admissible to impeach his inconsistent testimony at trial. Justices Stevens and Ginsburg dissented.
The Court said the interests safeguarded by excluding tainted evidence for impeachment purposes are “outweighed by the need to prevent perjury and to assure the integrity of the trial process.” Once the defendant testifies inconsistently, denying the prosecution “the traditional truth-testing devices of the adversary process,” is too high a price to pay for vindicating the right to counsel at the prior stage. Additionally, preventing impeachment use of statements taken in violation of the Sixth Amendment would add little appreciable deterrence for the police, who already have an incentive to comply with the Constitution, since statements lawfully obtained can be used for all purposes, not simply impeachment. In every other context, the Court noted, it had held that tainted evidence is admissible for impeachment purposes.
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