You Have the Right to Face Your Accuser When Charged with the Crime of Making a False Statement in a Passport Application

 

In the federal case of the United States of America versus Napoleon Bustamante, Mr. Bustamante was convicted of illegally reentering the United States, making a false statement in a passport application, and making a false statement in an application for supplemental security income benefits. His convictions centered around the prosecutor’s accusation that Bustamante was not a United States citizen.

 

In order to prove that accusation at trial, the prosecutor introduced into evidence a document purporting to be a transcription of Bustamante’s birth certificate from the Philippines.

 

Mr. Bustamante appealed his convictions, and the court of appeals reversed his convictions because the introduction of the document purporting to be a transcription of his birth certificate violated Bustamante’s right to face his accusers as guaranteed to him by the Confrontation Clause contained in the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

 

The Confrontation Clause guarantees that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right ... to be confronted with the witnesses against him."  The United States Supreme Court has held that this guarantee prohibits the admission of testimonial statements of a witness who does not appear at trial unless the witness is unavailable to testify and the person on trial has had a prior opportunity to cross-examine him.

 

The court of appeals in Bustamante’s case ruled that the document purporting to be a transcription of Bustamante’s birth certificate from the Philippines was an affidavit testifying to the contents of the birth records of the Filipino city in which Bustamante was born and was functionally identical to the live, in-court testimony that an employee of the Filipino government office might have provided.  Furthermore, that document was created for the purpose of the Air Force investigation into Bustamante’s citizenship and was made under circumstances that would lead an objective witness to reasonably believe that the statement would be available for use at a later trial.

 

Therefore, the admission into evidence of this document at Bustamante’s trial violated his right to confront his accusers because he did not have a prior opportunity to cross-examine the person who created it.

 

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