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Ohio v. Reiner


The defendant was charged with the death of his child. He alleged that abuse by the family’s babysitter caused his child’s death. Upon advice of counsel, the babysitter invoked her privilege against self-incrimination, although she denied any wrongdoing. The trial court granted transactional immunity for the babysitter’s testimony, the jury was advised of the grant of immunity, and the babysitter testified that she had nothing to do with the child’s injuries.


Whether the babysitter’s denial of culpability precluded any self-incrimination privilege, so that the granting of immunity prejudiced the defendant by effectively telling the jury that the babysitter was innocent?


No. The babysitter had a reasonable apprehension that her answers could have been used to incriminate her, and, therefore, had a right to invoke her self-incrimination protection.


The Supreme Court held that, while the self-incrimination protection only extended to witnesses who had reasonable cause to apprehend danger from a direct answer, the babysitter’s expression of innocence did not by itself eliminate the babysitter’s privilege. It was reasonable for the babysitter to fear that answers to possible questions might tend to incriminate her, despite her asserted innocence.

The witness’ assertion of innocence did not, by itself, preclude her invocation of the privilege against self-incrimination. Therefore, the court’s grant of immunity to the witness was not prejudicial. In view of the defense accusation that the witness committed the child abuse, the witness had reasonable ground to fear that answers might tend to incriminate her.


532 U.S. 17, 121 S. Ct. 1252 (2001)

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