Ohio v. Clark, 135 S.Ct. 2173 (2015)

Reversed and Remanded

Decision of Ohio Supreme Court

  • In response to his preschool teacher asking him how he got his bruises, a 3 year old child identified the criminal defendant (his mother’s boyfriend) as the person who caused his injuries. In the criminal trial, the teacher testified about the child’s statement. The child did not testify. The child’s statement was not a testimonial statement that violated the VI Amendment Confrontation Clause.
  • Testimonial statements are excluded by the Confrontation Clause. In determining if a statement is testimonial, a court will apply the “primary purpose test”: was the statement made with the primary purpose of being an out-of-court substitute for trial testimony. Here, the child’s statement to his teacher was not testimonial.
    • The “statements occurred in the context of an ongoing emergency involving suspected child abuse.” The teacher was trying to determine if the child was in immediate harm and if actions were needed to protect the child.
    • The questioning was informal and spontaneous. There was no indication the child was informed that the questioning was to obtain evidence to prosecute a criminal case.
    • The child’s young age (3 y.o.) indicate he was too young to understand the implications of the questioning and its relationship to the criminal justice system.
  • The Supreme Court did not adopt a categorical rule that testimonial statements made to non-law enforcement officers are excluded from the VI Amendment Confrontation Clause
  • A law mandating the report of suspected child abuse to government authorities does not convert the conversation between the child and mandated reporter into an interview that has a primary purpose of obtaining evidence for criminal prosecution.

Author’s Note

  • VI Amendment confrontation clause applies to criminal trials.
  • The statements were not challenged on hearsay grounds based on the Ohio Rules of Evidence, which address child witnesses:
    • “Children younger than 10 years old are incompetent to testify if they ‘appear incapable of receiving just impressions of the facts and transactions respecting which they are examined, or of relating them truly.’ Ohio Rule Evid. 601(A)”
    • Ohio Rule Evid 807 “allows the admission of reliable hearsay by child abuse victims.”
  • NC Rules of Evidence do not have similar provisions. The challenge was based on the VI Amendment Confrontation Clause.


Criminal Cases with Application to Child Welfare
Confrontation Clause and Child's Statement
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