Petitioner was convicted of grand larceny and burglary following
a trial in which the trial court, on motion of the prosecution,
issued a protective order prohibiting questioning Green, a key
prosecution witness, concerning Green's adjudication as a juvenile
delinquent relating to a burglary and his probation status at the
time of the events as to which he was to testify. The trial court's
order was based on state provisions protecting the anonymity of
juvenile offenders. The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed.
Petitioner was denied his right of confrontation
of witnesses under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments. Pp.
415 U. S.
(a) The defense was entitled to attempt to show that Green was
biased because of his vulnerable status as a probationer and his
concern that he might be a suspect in the burglary charged against
petitioner, and limiting the cross-examination of Green precluded
the defense from showing his possible bias. Pp. 415 U. S.
(b) Petitioner's right of confrontation is paramount to the
State's policy of protecting juvenile offenders, and any temporary
embarrassment to Green by disclosure of his juvenile court record
and probation status is outweighed by petitioner's right
effectively to cross-examine a witness. Pp. 415 U. S.
499 P.2d 1025
reversed and remanded.
BURGER, C.J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which
DOUGLAS, BRENNAN, STEWART, MARSHALL, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ.,
joined. STEWART, J., filed a concurring statement, post,
p. 415 U. S. 321
WHITE, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, J.,
p. 415 U. S.
Page 415 U. S. 309
MR. CHIEF JUSTICE BURGER delivered the opinion of the Court.
We granted certiorari in this case to consider whether the
Confrontation Clause requires that a defendant in a criminal case
be allowed to impeach the credibility of a prosecution witness by
cross-examination directed at possible bias deriving from the
witness' probationary status as a juvenile delinquent when such an
impeachment would conflict with a State's asserted interest in
preserving the confidentiality of juvenile adjudications of
When the Polar Bar in Anchorage closed in the early morning
hours of February 16, 1970, well over a thousand dollars in cash
and checks was in the bar's Mosler safe. About midday, February 16,
it was discovered that the bar had been broken into and the safe,
about two feet square and weighing several hundred pounds, had been
removed from the premises.
Later that, afternoon, the Alaska State Troopers received word
that a safe had been discovered about 26 miles outside Anchorage
near the home of Jess Straight and his family. The safe, which was
subsequently determined to be the one stolen from the Polar Bar,
had been pried open and the contents removed. Richard Green, Jess
Straight's stepson, told investigating troopers on the scene that,
at about noon on February 16, he had seen and spoken with two Negro
men standing alongside a late-model metallic blue Chevrolet sedan
near where the safe was later discovered. The next day,
Page 415 U. S. 310
police investigators brought him to the police station, where
Green was given six photographs of adult Negro males. After
examining the photographs for 30 seconds to a minute, Green
identified the photograph of petitioner as that of one of the men
he had encountered the day before and described to the police.
Petitioner was arrested the next day, February 18. On February 19,
Green picked petitioner out of a lineup of seven Negro males.
At trial, evidence was introduced to the effect that paint chips
found in the trunk of petitioner's rented blue Chevrolet could have
originated from the surface of the stolen safe. Further, the trunk
of the car contained particles which were identified as safe
insulation characteristic of that found in Mosler safes. The
insulation found in the trunk matched that of the stolen safe.
Richard Green was a crucial witness for the prosecution. He
testified at trial that, while on an errand for his mother, he
confronted two men standing beside a late-model metallic blue
Chevrolet, parked on a road near his family's house. The man
standing at the rear of the car spoke to Green asking if Green
lived nearby and if his father was home. Green offered the men
help, but his offer was rejected. On his return from the errand,
Green again passed the two men, and he saw the man with whom he had
had the conversation standing at the rear of the car with
"something like a crowbar" in his hands. Green identified
petitioner at the trial as the man with the "crowbar." The safe was
discovered later that afternoon at the point, according to Green,
where the Chevrolet had been parked.
Before testimony was taken at the trial of petitioner, the
prosecutor moved for a protective order to prevent any reference to
Green's juvenile record by the defense in the course of
cross-examination. At the time of the
Page 415 U. S. 311
trial and at the time of the events Green testified to, Green
was on probation by order of a juvenile court after having been
adjudicated a delinquent for burglarizing two cabins. Green was 16
years of age at the time of the Polar Bar burglary, but had turned
17 prior to trial.
In opposing the protective order, petitioner's counsel made it
clear that he would not introduce Green's juvenile adjudication as
a general impeachment of Green's character as a truthful person
but, rather, to show specifically that, at the same time Green was
assisting the police in identifying petitioner he was on probation
for burglary. From this petitioner would seek to show -- or at
least argue -- that Green acted out of fear or concern of possible
jeopardy to his probation. Not only might Green have made a hasty
and faulty identification of petitioner to shift suspicion away
from himself as one who robbed the Polar Bar, but Green might have
been subject to undue pressure from the police, and made his
identifications under fear of possible probation revocation.
Green's record would be revealed only as necessary to probe Green
for bias and prejudice, and not generally to call Green's good
character into question.
The trial court granted the motion for a protective order,
relying on Alaska Rule of Children's Procedure 23 [Footnote 1
] and Alaska Stat. 47.10.080(g)
(1971). [Footnote 2
Page 415 U. S. 312
Although prevented from revealing that Green had been on
probation for the juvenile delinquency adjudication for burglary at
the same time that he originally identified petitioner, counsel for
petitioner did his best to expose Green's state of mind at the time
Green discovered that a stolen safe had been discovered near his
home. Green denied that he was upset or uncomfortable about the
discovery of the safe. He claimed not to have been worried about
any suspicions the police might have been expected to harbor
against him, though Green did admit that it crossed his mind that
the police might have thought he had something to do with the
Defense counsel cross-examined Green in part as follows:
"Q. Were you upset at all by the fact that this safe was found
on your property?"
"A. No, sir."
"Q. Did you feel that they might in some way suspect you of
"Q. Did you feel uncomfortable about this though?"
"A. No, not really."
"Q. The fact that a safe was found on your property?"
"Q. Did you suspect for a moment that the police might somehow
think that you were involved in this?"
"A. I thought they might ask a few questions is all."
"Q. Did that thought ever enter your mind that you -- that the
police might think that you were somehow connected with this?"
"* * *
Page 415 U. S.
"A. No, it didn't really bother me, no."
"Q. Well, but. . . . "
"A. I mean, you know, it didn't -- it didn't come into my mind
as worrying me, you know."
"Q. That really wasn't -- wasn't my question, Mr. Green. Did you
think that -- not whether it worried you so much or not, but did
you feel that there was a possibility that the police might somehow
think that you had something to do with this, that they might have
that, in their mind, not that you. . . . "
"A. That came across my mind, yes, sir."
"Q. That did cross your mind?"
"Q. So, as I understand it, you went down to the-- you drove in
with the police in -- in their car from mile 25, Glenn Highway down
to the city police station?"
"A. Yes, sir."
"Q. And then went into the investigators' room with Investigator
Gray and Investigator Weaver?"
"Q. And they started asking you questions about -- about the
incident, is that correct?"
"Q. Had you ever been questioned like that, before by any law
"MR. RIPLEY: I'm going to object to this, Your Honor, it's a
carry-on with rehash of the same thing. He's attempting to raise in
the jury's mind. . . . "
"THE COURT: I'll sustain the objection."
Since defense counsel was prohibited from making inquiry as to
the witness' being on probation under a juvenile court
adjudication, Green's protestations of unconcern over possible
police suspicion that he might
Page 415 U. S. 314
have had a part in the Polar Bar burglary and his categorical
denial of ever having been the subject of any similar law
enforcement interrogation went unchallenged. The tension between
the right of confrontation and the State's policy of protecting the
witness with a juvenile record is particularly evident in the final
answer given by the witness. Since it is probable that Green
underwent some questioning by police when he was arrested for the
burglaries on which his juvenile adjudication of delinquency
rested, the answer can be regarded as highly suspect at the very
least. The witness was, in effect, asserting, under protection of
the trial court's ruling, a right to give a questionably truthful
answer to a cross-examiner pursuing a relevant line of inquiry; it
is doubtful whether the bold "No" answer would have been given by
Green absent a belief that he was shielded from traditional
cross-examination. It would be difficult to conceive of a situation
more clearly illustrating the need for cross-examination. The
remainder of the cross-examination was devoted to an attempt to
prove that Green was making his identification at trial on the
basis of what he remembered from his earlier identifications at the
photographic display and lineup, and not on the basis of his
February 16 confrontation with the two men on the road.
The Alaska Supreme Court affirmed petitioner's conviction,
] concluding that it
did not have to resolve the potential conflict in this case between
a defendant's right to a meaningful confrontation with adverse
witnesses and the State's interest in protecting the anonymity of a
juvenile offender, since
"our reading of the trial
Page 415 U. S. 315
transcript convinces us that counsel for the defendant was able
adequately to question the youth in considerable detail concerning
the possibility of bias or motive."
499 P.2d 1025
1036 (1972). Although the court admitted that Green's denials of
any sense of anxiety or apprehension upon the safe's being found
close to his home were possibly self-serving,
"the suggestion was nonetheless brought to the attention of the
jury, and that body was afforded the opportunity to observe the
demeanor of the youth and pass on his credibility."
The court concluded that, in light of the
indirect references permitted, there was no error.
Since we granted certiorari limited to the question of whether
petitioner was denied his right under the Confrontation Clause to
adequately cross-examine Green, 410 U.S. 925 (1973), the essential
question turns on the correctness of the Alaska court's evaluation
of the "adequacy" of the scope of cross-examination permitted. We
disagree with that court's interpretation of the Confrontation
Clause, and we reverse.
The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right of
an accused in a criminal prosecution "to be confronted with the
witnesses against him." This right is secured for defendants in
state as well as federal criminal proceedings under Pointer v.
Texas, 380 U. S. 400
(1965). Confrontation means more than being allowed to confront the
witness physically. "Our cases construing the [confrontation]
clause hold that a primary interest secured by it is the right of
cross-examination." Douglas v. Alabama, 380 U.
, 380 U. S. 418
(1965). Professor Wigmore stated:
"The main and essential purpose of confrontation is to
secure for the opponent the opportunity of
Page 415 U. S. 316
The opponent demands confrontation
not for the idle purpose of gazing upon the witness, or of being
gazed upon by him, but for the purpose of cross-examination, which
cannot be had except by the direct and personal putting of
questions and obtaining immediate answers."
5 J. Wigmore, Evidence § 1395, p. 123 (3d ed.1940). (Emphasis in
Cross-examination is the principal means by which the
believability of a witness and the truth of his testimony are
tested. Subject always to the broad discretion of a trial judge to
preclude repetitive and unduly harassing interrogation, the
cross-examiner is not only permitted to delve into the witness'
story to test the witness' perceptions and memory, but the
cross-examiner has traditionally been allowed to impeach,
discredit, the witness. One way of discrediting the
witness is to introduce evidence of a prior criminal conviction of
that witness. By so doing, the cross-examiner intends to afford the
jury a basis to infer that the witness' character is such that he
would be less likely than the average trustworthy citizen to be
truthful in his testimony. The introduction of evidence of a prior
crime is thus a general attack on the credibility of the witness. A
more particular attack on the witness' credibility is effected by
means of cross-examination directed toward revealing possible
biases, prejudices, or ulterior motives of the witness as they may
relate directly to issues or personalities in the case at hand. The
partiality of a witness is subject to exploration at trial, and is
"always relevant as discrediting the witness and affecting the
weight of his testimony." 3A J. Wigmore, Evidence § 940, p. 775
(Chadbourn rev.1970). We have recognized that the exposure of a
witness' motivation in testifying is a proper and important
function of the constitutionally protected right of
Page 415 U. S. 317
Greene v. McElroy, 360 U. S. 474
360 U. S. 496
(1959). [Footnote 4
In the instant case, defense counsel sought to show the
existence of possible bias and prejudice of Green, causing him to
make a faulty initial identification of petitioner, which, in turn,
could have affected his later in-court identification of
petitioner. [Footnote 5
We cannot speculate as to whether the jury, as sole judge of the
credibility of a witness, would have accepted this line of
reasoning had counsel been permitted to fully present it. But we do
conclude that the jurors were entitled to have the benefit of the
defense theory before them so that they could make an informed
judgment as to the weight to place on Green's testimony which
provided "a crucial link in the proof . . . of petitioner's act."
Douglas v. Alabama,
380 U.S. at 380 U. S. 419
The accuracy and truthfulness of Green's testimony were key
elements in the State's case against petitioner. The claim of bias
which the defense sought to develop was
Page 415 U. S. 318
admissible to afford a basis for an inference of undue pressure
because of Green's vulnerable status as a probationer, cf.
Alford v. United States, 282 U. S. 687
(1931), [Footnote 6
] as well as
of Green's possible concern that he might be a suspect in the
We cannot accept the Alaska Supreme Court's conclusion that the
cross-examination that was permitted defense counsel was adequate
to develop the issue of bias properly to the jury. While counsel
was permitted to ask Green whether
he was biased, counsel
was unable to make a record from which to argue why
might have been biased or otherwise lacked that degree of
impartiality expected of a witness at trial. On the basis of the
limited cross-examination that was permitted, the jury might well
have thought that defense counsel was engaged in a speculative and
baseless line of attack on the credibility of an apparently
blameless witness, or, as the prosecutor's objection put it, a
"rehash" of prior cross-examination. On these facts, it seems clear
to us that, to make any such inquiry effective, defense counsel
should have been permitted to expose to the jury the facts from
which jurors, as the sole triers of fact and credibility, could
appropriately draw inferences relating to the reliability of the
witness. Petitioner was thus denied the right of effective
"'would be constitutional error of the first magnitude and no
amount of showing of want of prejudice would cure it.'
Brookhart v. Janis, 384 U. S. 1
, 384 U. S.
Smith v. Illinois, 390 U. S. 129
390 U. S. 131
Page 415 U. S. 319
The claim is made that the State has an important interest in
protecting the anonymity of juvenile offenders, and that this
interest outweighs any competing interest this petitioner might
have in cross-examining Green about his being on probation. The
State argues that exposure of a juvenile's record of delinquency
would likely cause impairment of rehabilitative goals of the
juvenile correctional procedures. This exposure, it is argued,
might encourage the juvenile offender to commit further acts of
delinquency, or cause the juvenile offender to lose employment
opportunities or otherwise suffer unnecessarily for his youthful
We do not and need not challenge the State's interest as a
matter of its own policy in the administration of criminal justice
to seek to preserve the anonymity of a juvenile offender. Cf.
In re Gault, 387 U. S. 1
387 U. S. 25
(1967). Here, however, petitioner sought to introduce evidence of
Green's probation for the purpose of suggesting that Green was
biased and, therefore, that his testimony was either not to be
believed in his identification of petitioner or at least very
carefully considered in that light. Serious damage to the strength
of the State's case would have been a real possibility had
petitioner been allowed to pursue this line of inquiry. In this
setting, we conclude that the right of confrontation is paramount
to the State's policy of protecting a juvenile offender. Whatever
temporary embarrassment might result to Green or his family by
disclosure of his juvenile record -- if the prosecution insisted on
using him to make its case -- is outweighed by petitioner's right
to probe into the influence of possible bias in the testimony of a
crucial identification witness.
In Alford v. United States, supra,
we upheld the
Page 415 U. S. 320
of defense counsel to impeach a witness by showing that, because
of the witness' incarceration in federal prison at the time of
trial, the witness' testimony was biased as "given under promise or
expectation of immunity, or under the coercive effect of his
detention by officers of the United States." 282 U.S. at
282 U. S. 693
In response to the argument that the witness had a right to be
protected from exposure of his criminal record, the Court
"[N]o obligation is imposed on the court, such as that suggested
below, to protect a witness from being discredited on
cross-examination short of an attempted invasion of his
constitutional protection from self incrimination, properly
invoked. There is a duty to protect him from questions which go
beyond the bounds of proper cross-examination merely to harass,
annoy or humiliate him."
at 282 U. S. 694
As in Alford,
we conclude that the State's desire that
Green fulfill his public duty to testify free from embarrassment
and with his reputation unblemished must fall before the right of
petitioner to seek out the truth in the process of defending
The State's policy interest in protecting the confidentiality of
a juvenile offender's record cannot require yielding of so vital a
constitutional right as the effective cross-examination for bias of
an adverse witness. The State could have protected Green from
exposure of his juvenile adjudication in these circumstances by
refraining from using him to make out its case; the State cannot,
consistent with the right of confrontation, require the petitioner
to bear the full burden of vindicating the State's interest in the
secrecy of juvenile criminal records. The judgment affirming
petitioner's convictions of burglary and grand larceny is reversed,
and the case is
Page 415 U. S. 321
remanded for further proceedings not inconsistent with this
It is so ordered.
Rule 23 provides:
"No adjudication, order, or disposition of a juvenile case shall
be admissible in a court not acting in the exercise of juvenile
jurisdiction except for use in a presentencing procedure in a
criminal case where the superior court, in its discretion,
determines that such use is appropriate."
Section 47.10.080(g) provides in pertinent part:
"The commitment and placement of a child and evidence given in
the court are not admissible as evidence against the minor in a
subsequent case or proceedings in any other court. . . ."
In the same opinion. the Alaska Supreme Court also affirmed
petitioner's conviction, following a separate trial, for being a
felon in possession of a concealable firearm. That conviction is
not in issue before this Court.
"Certain principles have remained relatively immutable in our
jurisprudence. One of these is that, where governmental action
seriously injures an individual, and the reasonableness of the
action depends on fact findings, the evidence used to prove the
Government's case must be disclosed to the individual so that he
has an opportunity to show that it is untrue. While this is
important in the case of documentary evidence, it is even more
important where the evidence consists of the testimony of
individuals whose memory might be faulty or who, in fact, might be
perjurers or persons motivated by malice, vindictiveness,
intolerance, prejudice, or jealousy. We have formalized these
protections in the requirements of confrontation and
cross-examination. . . ."
360 U.S. at 360 U. S.
of mind at some former time
may be used as the basis of an argument to the same state at the
time of testifying, though the ultimate object is to establish
partiality at the time of testifying."
3A J. Wigmore, Evidence § 940, p. 776 (Chadbourn rev.1970).
(Emphasis in original; footnotes omitted.)
involved a federal criminal trial and
we reversed because of abuse of discretion and prejudicial error,
the constitutional dimension of our holding in Alford
not in doubt. In Smith v. Illinois, 390 U.
, 390 U. S. 13
(1968), we relied, in part, on Alford
to reverse a state
criminal conviction on confrontation grounds.
MR. JUSTICE STEWART, concurring.
The Court holds that, in the circumstances of this case, the
Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments conferred the right to
cross-examine a particular prosecution witness about his
delinquency adjudication for burglary and his status as a
probationer. Such cross-examination was necessary in this case in
order "to show the existence of possible bias and prejudice . . .
at 415 U. S. 317
In joining the Court's opinion, I would emphasize that the Court
neither holds nor suggests that the Constitution confers a right in
every case to impeach the general credibility of a witness through
cross-examination about his past delinquency adjudications or
MR. JUSTICE WHITE, with whom MR. JUSTICE REHNQUIST joins,
As I see it, there is no constitutional principle at stake here.
This is nothing more than a typical instance of a trial court
exercising its discretion to control or limit cross-examination,
followed by a typical decision of a state appellate court refusing
to disturb the judgment of the trial court and itself concluding
that limiting cross-examination had done no substantial harm to the
defense. Yet the Court insists on second-guessing the state courts
and, in effect, inviting federal review of every ruling of a state
trial judge who believes cross-examination has gone far enough. I
would not undertake this task, if for no other reason than that I
have little faith in our ability, in fact-bound cases and on a cold
record, to improve on the judgment of trial judges and of the state
appellate courts who agree with them. I would affirm the