Coy v. Iowa
487 U.S. 1012 (1988)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Coy v. Iowa, 487 U.S. 1012 (1988)

Coy v. Iowa

No. 86-6757

Argued January 13, 1988

Decided June 29, 1988

487 U.S. 1012


Appellant was charged with sexually assaulting two 13-year-old girls. At appellant's jury trial, the court granted the State's motion, pursuant to a 1985 state statute intended to protect child victims of sexual abuse, to place a screen between appellant and the girls during their testimony, which blocked him from their sight but allowed him to see them dimly and to hear them. The court rejected appellant's argument that this procedure violated the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment, which gives a defendant the right "to be confronted with the witnesses against him." Appellant was convicted of two counts of lascivious acts with a child, and the Iowa Supreme Court affirmed.


1. The Confrontation Clause, by its words, provides a criminal defendant the right to "confront" face-to-face the witnesses giving evidence against him at trial. That core guarantee serves the general perception that confrontation is essential to fairness, and helps to ensure the integrity of the factfinding process by making it more difficult for witnesses to lie. Pp. 487 U. S. 1015-1020.

2. Appellant's right to face-to-face confrontation was violated, since the screen at issue enabled the complaining witnesses to avoid viewing appellant as they gave their testimony. There is no merit to the State's assertion that its statute creates a presumption of trauma to victims of sexual abuse that outweighs appellant's right to confrontation. Even if an exception to this core right can be made, it would have to be based on something more than the type of generalized finding asserted here, unless it were "firmly . . . rooted in our jurisprudence." Bourjaily v. United States, 483 U. S. 171, 483 U. S. 183. An exception created by a 1985 statute can hardly be viewed as "firmly rooted," and there have been no individualized findings that these particular witnesses needed special protection. Pp. 487 U. S. 1020-1021.

3. Since the State Supreme Court did not address the question whether the Confrontation Clause error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt under Chapman v. California, 386 U. S. 18, 386 U. S. 24, the case must be remanded. Pp. 487 U. S. 1021-1022.

397 N.W.2d 730, reversed and remanded.

Page 487 U. S. 1013

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BRENNAN, WHITE, MARSHALL, STEVENS, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. O'CONNOR, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which WHITE, J., joined, post, p. 487 U. S. 1022. BLACKMUN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., joined, post, p. 487 U. S. 1025. KENNEDY, J., took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.

Page 487 U. S. 1014

Primary Holding
Defendant's right to confront witnesses under the Sixth Amendment was violated when the trial court placed a screen between defendant and child sexual assault victims during their testimony pursuant to a state statute since the screen at issue enabled the complaining witnesses to avoid viewing appellant as they gave their testimony.

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