assaulting two thirteen-year-old girls who were camping in the backyard next to him.20 Both the
trial court and the Iowa Supreme Court held that placing a screen between the children and the
defendant was permissible to “mak[e] the complaining witnesses feel less uneasy in giving their
testimony.”21 The U.S. Supreme Court reversed that decision, stating that use of the screen was a
clear violation of the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses.22 Thus, Justice
Scalia held that the right to confrontation meant a “constitutional right to face-to-face
The U.S. Supreme Court in Maryland v. Craig clarified the issue left open in Coy about
whether there was an absolute right to face-to-face confrontation.24 In Craig, the trial court
allowed four children to testify via one-way closed circuit television.25 This procedure allowed
the prosecutor and the defense counsel to question the child witness in a separate room, while the
judge, the jury, and the defendant remained in the courtroom viewing the testimony on a video
monitor.26 The Supreme Court stated that the Confrontation Clause involves “physical presence,
oath, cross-examination, and observation of demeanor by the trier of fact.”27 The Court went
through various examples, which demonstrated that the preference for face-to-face confrontation
is eased when issues of public policy abut the right.28 In fact, the Confrontation Clause must be
“interpreted in the context of the necessities of trial and the adversary process.”29 The Court held
that the state had a substantial interest in protecting the children from trauma associated with
testifying.30 “[A] State’s interest in the physical and psychological well-being of child abuse
victims may be sufficiently important to outweigh, at least in some cases, a defendant’s right to
face his or her accusers in court.”31
Herein lies the Sixth Amendment dilemma. Yes, it is a defendant’s constitutional right to
confront his or her accusers, but what happens when the accuser is a five-year-old child? The
Federal Rules of Evidence state that “[e]very person is competent to be a witness . . . .”32 This
includes young children. Thus, even though a child is very young, he or she can be compelled to
testify in court because of the Confrontation Clause.
B. How Prosecutors Can Reduce Traumatization in Their Child Witnesses
In view of the Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses, what can prosecutors do to
help children who are expected to participate in trials as if they were adults? In criminal cases
involving allegations of child abuse, the child is expected to be interviewed numerous times prior
to trial, and is usually expected to testify during trial about the abuse.33 The prosecutors, who call
these children as witnesses, should know the signs of trauma and be cognizant about how their
actions could further traumatize or re-traumatize these children. Prosecutors should also know
20 Coy, 487 U.S. at 1014.
21 Id. at 1014–15.
22 Id. at 1020–22.
23 Id. at 1022.
24 Craig, 497 U.S. at 844.
25 Id. at 843.
26 Id. at 841.
27 Id. at 846.
28 Id. at 849.
29 Id. at 850.
30 Id. at 852–53.
31 Id. at 853.
32 FED. R. EVID. 601.
33 At minimum, a child will have to tell his or her story three times: (1) the initial disclosure to a family member, friend, or teacher; (2)
to the forensic interviewer or police officer; and (3) at trial. Realistically, a child will have to retell his or her story again in a pre-trial