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Order: All persons in the courtroom, including testifying witnesses, to wear a mask during the COVID-19 pandemic does not violate the Sixth Amendment right to confrontation if the order retains the essential safeguards of reliability of testimony

California

,

USA

The trial court’s mask order, in this case, did not violate the defendant’s Sixth Amendment rights In People v. Alvarez, B309269 (Cal. Ct. App. February 14, 2022), the appellant argued in part that the trial court’s order that all persons in the courtroom, including testifying witnesses, wear a mask covering the mouth and part of the nose violated his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation. The public policy exception to the Sixth Amendment right to confrontation must be applied on a case-by-case basis The Court explained that the requirement of face-to-face confrontation at trial can be dispensed with only where denial of such confrontation is necessary to further an important public policy and where the reliability of the testimony is otherwise assured. Thus, the public policy exception to the Sixth Amendment right to confrontation must be applied on a case-by-case basis. The masking order satisfied the important public policy of protecting the public from COVID-19 and retained essential safeguards of reliability of testimony The appellant’s trial occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Court found that the mask order satisfied the important public policy of protecting the public from COVID-19, a contagious and often lethal disease. Furthermore, the masking requirement was consistent with the best available scientific information and advice.The confrontation clause is a procedural rather than a substantive guarantee and commands that the reliability of evidence be assessed by subjecting it to procedural safeguards. Those procedural safeguards are: (1) in-person testimony; (2) given under oath; (3) subjected to cross-examination and (4) the ability of the defendant and factfinder to view witness demeanor to evaluate credibility. In this case, all four safeguards were present. The Court explained that while face masks covered the witnesses’ mouths and the lower part of their noses, significant aspects of their appearance, including the eyes, tops of the cheeks, and the body, were readily observable as was posture, tone of voice, cadence, and numerous other aspects of demeanor.The Court noted that due to the fluid nature of the pandemic, evolving health and safety measures, and depending on the type of face-covering involved, there may be cases where mask orders do not fit as neatly within the public policy exception. Disposition The Court affirmed the trial court’s judgment.

April 14, 2022
People v. Alvarez, B309269 (Cal. Ct. App. February 14, 2022)
California Courts