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Name: Ohio v. Clark
Case #: 13-1352
Court: US Supreme Court
District USSup
Opinion Date: 06/18/2015

Child’s statement to a teacher that identified child’s abuser did not implicate the confrontation clause. While Clark’s girlfriend was out of town, Clark watched her two children—L.P., a three-year-old boy and A.T., an 18-month-old girl. When L.P.’s preschool teachers questioned him about injuries that they noticed, L.P. eventually admitted that Clark had injured him. After further investigation, Clark was prosecuted for child abuse. During trial, L.P. was unavailable to testify and the prosecution introduced L.P.’s prior statements to his teachers as proof of guilt. Clark was convicted. The state appellate court reversed the conviction on confrontation grounds and the Supreme Court of Ohio affirmed. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari. Held: Reversed. The Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause “prohibits the introduction of testimonial statements by a nontestifying witness, unless the witness is unavailable to testify, and the defendant has had a prior opportunity for cross-examination.” Under the “primary purpose” test, a statement is testimonial if, viewed objectively, the primary purpose of the conversation was to create an out-of-court substitute for trial testimony. The Court has not previously determined whether statements made to persons other than law enforcement officers are subject to the confrontation clause. Although finding that such statements are less likely to be testimonial, the Court declined to adopt a categorical approach excluding such statements from the reach of the Sixth Amendment. The Court concluded the statements in this case were not testimonial because they were not made with the primary purpose of creating evidence for Clark’s prosecution. The statements were made in the context of an ongoing emergency involving child abuse and the teachers’ questions were aimed at identifying the abuser in order to protect the child. L.P.’s age supports this conclusion, as statements of very young children will rarely implicate the confrontation clause. The Sixth Amendment did not prevent introduction of L.P.’s statements.

The fact the teachers were mandated reporters of child abuse did not mean their questioning of L.P. rendered his statements testimonial. Mandatory reporting statutes alone do not convert a conversation between a teacher and her student into a law enforcement mission directed at producing evidence for trial. Here, the purpose of the questioning was to protect the victim, not to gather evidence to prosecute the abuser.