The Confrontation Clause and the Case of Aaron Von Ehlinger
Imagine that you’re accused of a crime. For our purposes that crime is murder. A body is found. An anonymous tipster testifies to the police that they saw you commit the murder. It just so happens that the murder was committed outside of your place of residence. You are apprehended by the police and questioned about your whereabouts the night of the murder. You were at home where you always are. The victim is identified as your neighbor, with whom you’ve feuded for years. Your mug is plastered all over the pages of the news, and every association that you have in life is cut off. Who wants to be associated with a murderer?
This scenario is all too common in modern affairs. You may be familiar with the case of Richard Jewell. Jewell was a security contractor for the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. On July 26, 1996, a backpack full of explosives and debris like nails is detonated during a public event at Centennial Olympic Park, killing one and injuring a dozen or so others. Richard Jewell was quickly identified as a suspect for several reasons. Primary among those reasons, Jewell was in proximity to the bomb and also filmed purchasing nails from a local hardware store. His name and photo appeared on the front page of every newspaper in the country and he was vilified as a ruthless killer. Only there was a problem with this narrative: Jewell was innocent and law enforcement and the press identified the wrong man in their haste. Jewell would eventually win a defamation lawsuit against the government and the press, but years later he dies lonely and isolated. The damage was done.
The example of Richard Jewell provides a stark reminder of why due process matters. In the United States, we subscribe to an idea of due process that finds its origin in the Magna Carta and Roman Law. Under the British crown during the 1600s, it was routine for witnesses to be interrogated and coerced into giving false testimony behind closed doors, and for the accused to be left unable to mount a defense since they did not know who or why such testimony was brought against them. The Framers of the Constitution understood this and adopted ideas about due process such as the Confrontation Clause into the Bill of Rights. The Sixth Amendment states:
“In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.”
The Confrontation Clause is cut and dry in its assertion that you have a right to a face-to-face confrontation in court with those who bring accusations against you in a speedy and public trial. This allows for cross-examination and for a jury to observe the body language and responses of an accuser to discern the truthfulness of their claims. Unfortunately, of late there has been a complete rejection of this principle in the court of public opinion. We saw this on display in the impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. Hiding behind whistleblower protections, accusers leveled charges of impropriety against Trump in regard to the contents of a phone call placed in his official capacity as President. Any and all attempts to confront the accuser are met with censorship and suppression, to the point of a refusal on the part of the press and Big Tech to even print the whistleblower’s name. And they are able to skirt due process protections by waging the battle in a political court instead of an actual court. This has also been the weapon of choice in the #metoo movement. This is the anatomy of a liberal smear campaign.
In Idaho, they’ve seen a similar campaign waged against former State Representative Aaron von Ehlinger and his allies. Von Ehlinger is accused of rape by a former staffer. For his part, von Ehlinger confesses to a sexual relationship with the accusing staffer but claims that it was a consensual affair. In whatever manner this plays out, the accused is entitled to due process and for a jury of peers to hear all sides of a story and come to a conclusion. Unfortunately, the accusation is being waged in political ethics committees and the press and not necessarily in an actual court where due process is guaranteed.
One of von Ehlinger’s advocates, State Representative Priscilla Giddings, is currently being censured by the same ethics committees for sharing an article in which the accuser’s name and photo are published. The state legislative ethics committee has censured and stripped Giddings of her committee assignments for outing the alleged whistleblower. In addition, corporations have distanced themselves from her as a newly established victim shamer. In this scenario, the accuser is entitled to complete anonymity, while the accused party is plastered throughout the press. Merely sharing an article defending the accused is tantamount to harassment. As usual, there is more to this story. Priscilla Giddings is also currently a declared candidate for the Idaho lieutenant governor’s office. She has a reputation for not toeing the party line and is the most likely candidate to replace outgoing Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin. The smear campaign is on.
It remains to be seen what if any legal proceedings will ensue in the case of Aaron von Ehlinger. Historically, due process has been afforded to those accused of a crime by official judicial bodies, and those accusing others in the public square. Politicians have never been charged with ideological consistency, so perhaps it’s unrealistic for them to offer the same due process to the accused as the accuser? In the absence of due process afforded to all parties in potentially criminal affairs, it’s imperative that the public recognizes the smear and hold the press and politicians to a higher standard of justice. As long as battles are waged in the court of public opinion and not official judicial proceedings, the accused is entitled to exactly the same justice afforded to the accuser.
Brian Parsons is a digital marketing consultant by trade, a proud husband and father, saved by grace & an unabashed paleoconservative. You can follow him at WithdrawConsent.org or find his weekly opinion column in the Idaho State Journal. Gab, MeWe, Email
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