High Court Reinstates Child-Beating Conviction

     (CN) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday reinstated the child abuse conviction of an Ohio man, holding that indirect testimony is admissible in such cases.
     Darius Clark, of Cleveland, Ohio, was convicted on multiple charges of abusing his girlfriend’s two young children.
     According to court documents, Clark moved in with his girlfriend and her children in 2008. Two years later, after caring for the children the night before, Clark dropped off the woman’s 3-year-old son, identified in court documents as “L.P.” at a Head Start center.
     One of the child’s teachers noticed the boy’s left eye appeared bloodshot and swollen and asked him how he got hurt. According to the teacher, the boy initially claimed that he’d fallen, but after another teacher intervened the youngster said Clark had hurt him.
     The school reported the incident to a state child-abuse hotline, and Clark was eventually charged with felony assault on the boy, felonious assault of the other child, and multiple counts of endangering children and domestic violence.
     A state court judge found L.P. unfit to testify at Clark’s trial because the boy made inconsistent statements at a pretrial hearing. However, the judge did allow L.P.’s teachers and other adult witnesses to testify about the boy’s statements to them regarding his injuries. Clark was convicted on all but one charge and sentenced to 28 years in prison.
     A state appellate court reversed the decision, ruling that the testimony from the teachers violated Clark’s right to confront witnesses against him.
     A divided Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court’s ruling in October 2013, holding that the admission of L.P.’s statements to his teachers violated Clark’s right to confrontation.”
     In dissent Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said her colleagues’ decision not only created confusion in the state’s case law, but also threatened “the safety of our children.”
     The state then turned to the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the justices to clarify when statements to non-law enforcement personnel implicate the confrontation clause is they are used at a trial.
     On Thursday, the justices unanimously rejected Clark’s argument that allowing testimony from the teachers violated his right to confront his accusers.
     “Mandatory reporting obligations do not convert a conversation between a concerned teacher and her student into a law enforcement mission aimed at gathering evidence for protection,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito.
     “It is irrelevant that the teachers’ questions and their duty to report the matter had the natural tendency to result in Clark’s prosecution,” the justice said.
     Indeed, Alito said, the child’s statements to his teacher weren’t made to create evidence for Clark’s prosecution, but rather, “occurred in the context of an ongoing emergency involving suspected child abuse.”
     In that context, the justice said, the teacher’s questions were intended only to identify and end a threat to the child’s well-being.
     “As a historical matter … there is strong evidence that statements made in circumstances like these were regularly admitted at common law,” Alito wrote.
     “Statements to individuals who are not principally charged with uncovering and prosecuting criminal behavior are significantly less likely to be testimonial than those given to law enforcement officers,” he said.
     Clark was released from prison last year after his child-abuse conviction was overturned; however, he was placed back in jail in September 2014 on assault, criminal damaging and burglary charges after he was accused of attacking a teenaged nursing home worker. Clark pleaded not guilty to the charges, and the case is still pending.
     But in May his legal problems grew more complicated, when he was indicted on charges of running a prostitution ring from the Cuyahoga County Jail in Ohio.

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