The Supreme Court agreed Monday to revisit the volatile question of when child sexual abuse victims can be excused from testifying in court against their alleged abuser.
The court next term will further define when out-of-court statements of young children can be admitted in lieu of testimony at a sexual abuse trial.The court will decide if prosecutors must show a child is unavailable to testify before the youngster's out-of-court declarations to others can be admitted as evidence.
The court has said hearsay statements, which normally would be excluded from a criminal trial, can be admitted in some child sexual abuse cases if they are first found to be reliable.
But the court has left open the question of whether a judge must also first conclude that the child is unavailable to testify before admitting even seemingly reliable hearsay statements.
By "unavailable," the court could conclude that the child would be too traumatized to testify. Last term it allowed some children to testify by closed-circuit television rather than appear in court.
The justices will review a ruling of an Illinois appeals court that a man accused of sexually abusing a child not only had no right to confront her in court, but prosecutors did not need to show that she was unavailable to testify.
The child, the only eyewitness in the case, was sitting in the courtroom during the trial but not required to take the stand. Instead, her baby sitter, her mother, a police officer, a doctor and a nurse all testified about what the little girl had told them.
Randall White was sentenced to 10 years in prison after his conviction for aggravated criminal sexual assault and other charges involving the 1988 incident. He says his Sixth Amendment right to confront his accuser was violated.
The court Monday also agreed to decide if certain land on American Indian reservations that is essentially privately owned is subject to state property taxes.
The court agreed to hear the case involving the Yakima Indian Reservation, which covers nearly 1.4 million acres in southeastern Washington state.
About 20 percent of the land is now classified as "fee land," meaning its inhabitants have been granted a patent to the land with all restrictions on alienation removed.
Yakima County imposed its general property tax to this fee land for years, but the Indians filed suit in 1987. The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that state taxation of Indian owned fee land within a reservation's boundaries is legal, unless it would harm the political integrity, economy, health or welfare of the Indian tribe.
In another case, the court agreed to decide if an employer must bargain to impasse with a union before unilaterally cutting wages.
The court will review a ruling of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that a Louisiana truck and trailer manufacturer did not necessarily violate labor law when it imposed a pay cut in 1987 after expiration of a collective bargaining pact.
The unions for workers at the Mansfield, La., plant of Nabors Trailers Inc., say management did not properly negotiate the cuts.