Right to Confrontation vs State Privilege: Thomas v. Oklahoma
Video Transcript: Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals finds that a defendant is not entitled to know who his accuser is, where, in this case, the accuser was only the start of the investigation. I’m James Wirth, a lawyer in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
We’re dealing with a new case out of the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. It is not published, but it’s Thomas v. State of Oklahoma, F2021738. It was decided on January 5th, 2023. And in that case, the person was charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon among some other charges, and ultimately got a sentence of 95 years. And on appeal, he had two contentions to appeal, but the second one’s the one that’s interesting that we’re talking about today. And he asserts that his conviction should be reversed because he was denied his fundamental due, a right to due process and a fair trial by the state’s refusal to name or produce the informant that started the investigation.
So ultimately, somebody made a claim to law enforcement that started an investigation that got him arrested, charged, prosecuted, ultimately a sentence of 95 years. As part of that, they filed a motion to try to require the state to tell him who this accuser was, so they could look into that, perhaps find something relevant to the defense. And the trial court denied that, and he ultimately was convicted. And now, he is complaining about that on appeal.
He argues that denial of his motion to reveal the identity of the informant denied his right to confrontation. And under the US Constitution, we do have a right to confrontation. I got my little cheat sheet on it here. It is the Sixth Amendment notes that in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to, among other things, be confronted with the witnesses against him, and he assures that was violated.
But the court held differently and found that the state is privileged to withhold the identity of a person who has furnished information related to assisting in investigation of a possible violation of the law to a law enforcement officer. It notes that the privilege is limited by its social utility and will yield where knowledge of the informer is necessary to the defense.
So is knowledge of who the accuser is necessary to the defense? That’s the issue here. And the court’s finding that it is on the defendant. The burden is on the defendant by greater weight of the evidence to show that the identity was essential to his defense.
Ultimately, the ruling here was that the court’s refusal to order the disclosure of an informant whose tip simply started an investigation was not an abuse of discretion. So they found he’s not entitled to know who his accuser is. His conviction stands and sentence stands. And he’s looking at doing 95 years. All right. So that’s the issue on that.
Some more particulars regarding this issue and how you balance what the Constitution says versus what state law says versus the decisions that we’re getting here, I’m actually going to do a subsequent video that talks about that. But if you have a question about how that applies to your case, or a friend or a family member, or another issue regarding law in Oklahoma, you’re not just going to want to take information from the video on YouTube. You’re going to want to talk to an attorney privately and confidentially get legal advice relevant to your situation. So to get that scheduled with an Oklahoma criminal defense attorney at my office, go online to makelaweasy.com.