U.S. Supreme Court Rules that Teachers May Testify About Out-of-Court Statements Made By Minor Students Regarding Abuse

On June 18, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Ohio v. Clark that teachers may testify in court about reports of abuse made to them by young students.

In Clark, two teachers of a pre-school student observed that a student’s left eye was bloodshot and that he had red marks on his body. The teachers asked the student who did it and what happened to him, and the student identified his mother’s boyfriend (who also was the mother’s pimp).

The teachers later testified against the defendant boyfriend in his criminal trial, and he was convicted of assault, child endangerment, and domestic violence.  The defendant appealed his convictions, arguing that the teachers’ testimony could not be used against him because he had the right under the Sixth Amendment to confront his accuser, which in this case was the pre-school child.

As a general matter, prosecutors may not introduce “testimonial statements” of non-testifying witnesses at trial unless the witness is unavailable and the defendant has had an opportunity to cross examine his accuser.

However, in this case, the Court held that the child’s statements were not “testimonial” in nature because the teachers’ questions to the child were aimed at ending the threat and keeping him safe; they were not posed for the purpose of gathering evidence for the boyfriend’s prosecution.

The Court ruled that although teachers are mandated by law to report abuse, their status as mandated reporters does not convert their conversations with students about possible abuse to a “law enforcement mission.” This ruling is good news for school districts because it means that school personnel do not have to be concerned with applying criminal law enforcement standards in fulfilling their duties as mandated reporters.  All school personnel in Illinois have an individual legal duty under the Abused and Neglected Child Reporting Act to make a report to DCFS when they have reasonable cause to believe a child known to them in their professional capacity may be an abused or neglected child.

Issues regarding the obligations of school personnel as mandatory reporters continues to grow. Contact Michelle Todd or Bennett Rodick with your DCFS mandatory reporting inquiries.

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