No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offence to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
The above is the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution. It exists to protect those accused of crimes from being forced to prove their innocence. It is the cornerstone of US law. No one can be compelled to testify against himself. No one can be compelled to testify in his defense. No one can be charged for the same crime twice.
This is followed by the Sixth Amendment:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
Again, this is a fundamental part of the US legal process. No one can be held for long periods of time while awaiting trial (although this is violated frequently with high-profile, juvenile, and murder cases). No one can be prosecuted without being informed of the charges. Most importantly, no one can be tried without knowing who accused him and having the chance to question the accuser.
The right to cross-examination is important because it allows the defendant to challenge the accuser’s credibility directly. The legal definition explains the logic behind this:
[a] court practice, the part of a case, whether civil or criminal, where evidence is elicited from the other side’s witness. Thus, the defence will cross-examine the investigating police officers after the prosecutor has conducted the examination in chief It serves two functions:
(1) to test the veracity of the witness and the accuracy of the evidence;
(2) to obtain evidence on points on which he has not been questioned in chief and which may support the cross-examiner’s case. Failure to cross-examine on any matter generally implies acceptance of evidence on that point.
That is the purpose of the cross-examination. So when I see an effort in Britain to get rid due process and cross-examination in rape cases, I am reminded why the colonists decided to go their own way. Continue reading