State v. Vincent

In State v. Vincent, 159 Ariz. 418, 429, 768 P.2d 150, 161 (1989), two young children were witnesses in their father's trial for murdering their mother. Id. at 420, 768 P.2d at 152. Pursuant to 13-4253, the State moved to record the children's testimony and to present it at trial. Id. at 426, 768 P.2d at 158. Without considering any evidence that the children would suffer trauma if required to testify at trial, the trial court permitted the recording, ruling that "children . . . of such tender age . . . could be traumatized due to the severe nature, and severity of the crime charged," and that it was in their best interests "not to look upon the face of their father" during their testimony. Id. The children's testimony was then recorded, with the prosecutor, defense counsel, the children's foster mother, and the trial judge present; the defendant was in another room observing the testimony and had telephonic access to his counsel. Id. at 425, 768 P.2d at 157. The Arizona Supreme Court ruled this procedure violated the defendant's confrontation rights because the trial court had made no individualized finding that recording the children's testimony was necessary: "Coy and Vess both tell us at a minimum that such generalized conclusions do not suffice to justify a substitute for face-to-face confrontational testimony. Because there were no particularized findings concerning the comparative ability of the Vincent children to withstand the trauma of face-to-face testimony, as contrasted with the trauma of a videotaped procedure with their father shielded from their view, we hold that A.R.S. 13-4253 was applied in such a way as to violate the defendant's constitutional right to confrontation." Id. at 428-29, 768 P.2d at 160-61. The principle is clear: restrictions on a defendant's confrontation rights cannot be justified without individualized findings.