Disbarred Minnesota attorney and convicted pedophile Stephen Danforth is about to get an opportunity that few lawyers experience: to have a case argued before the Supreme Court. The case raises a very interesting question of an accused’s right to confrontation of witnesses – in this case a 6-year-old boy. He may have a case.
Danforth represented himself in 1996 – showing that a person who represents himself not only has a fool for a lawyer, but in this case a pedophile. At the trial, Danforth admitted that he has a history of “petty insanities and strange practices,” but he denied the abuse.
He was not allowed however to cross-examine his accuser who was allowed to tell his story by videotape
In 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court decision sharply limited the use of recorded testimony when it did not allow for cross-examination. The Minnesota Supreme Court, however, refused to apply the ruling retroactively to his case. The Supreme Court has been increasingly rigid in denying the retroactive application of such rulings. This case, however, shows how the non-retroactive rulings distort justice. There was no more important element in the case than the cross-examination of the accuser. It is certainly understandable why the judge sought to protect the victim. However, it left Danforth with no serious avenue to challenge the core evidence. If this is unconstitutional as suggested in 2004, it means that Danforth did not receive a legitimate trial on the merits.
Obviously, the bets are against him with this Court and he garners or deserves any sympathy. However, there remains a very disturbing denial of a fundamental right in the case that must be reviewed with detachment from the underlying allegations. If a person has a right to confrontation, a trial without such a right is not a constitutional trial.