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Name: Ocampo v. Vail
Case #: 08-35586
Court: US Court of Appeals
District 9 Cir
Opinion Date: 06/09/2011

The Confrontation Clause is violated when police testify to the substance of inculpatory out-of-court statements. Under the Sixth Amendment, an accused has the right to confront witnesses against him, with the Confrontation Clause conditioning admissibility of the statement at issue on the absent witness’ unavailability and defendant’s prior opportunity to cross-examine. In this case, police officers questioned witness Vasquez as part of an investigation surrounding the murder of which appellant was ultimately charged and convicted. Vasquez was not available at trial and the officers testified as to their contact with Vasquez, although did not quote him. The prosecuting attorney, in closing argument, then advised the jury what they were to take from the officers’ testimony. The reviewing court found the officers’ testimony to be a violation of the Confrontation Clause. Although the officers’ testimony did not provide specific details about Vazquez’ out-of-court statements, it conveyed critical substance that implicated Ocampo in the shooting. This testimony was in direct contrast to Ocampo’s defense that he was not present. In this case, the federal court was able to reach the Confrontation Clause issue because the state court had unreasonably applied federal law, i.e., Crawford v. Washington 541 U.S. 36 (2004), in its determination that the officers’ testimony was admissible because they did not quote the statements made by Vasquez. Finally, the federal court found the error violated Ocampo’s right to a fair trial and required reversal because the substance of the out-of-court statements as testified to by the officers, were critical to the prosecution case and the evidence of guilt, otherwise, was far from overwhelming.