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The Sixth Amendment does not literally contain a prohibition upon all hearsay evidence, since it guarantees the defendant only the right to confront 'the witnesses against him.' As applied in the Sixth Amendment's context of a prosecution, the noun 'witness' -- in 1791 as today -- could mean either (a) one 'who knows or sees anything; one personally present' or (b) 'one who gives testimony' or who 'testifies,' i.e., '[i]n judicial proceedings, [one who] make[s] a solemn declaration under oath, for the purpose of establishing or making proof of some fact to a court.' 2 N. Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828) (emphasis added). See also J. Buchanan, Linguae Britannicae Vera Pronunciatio (1757). 


The former meaning (one 'who knows or sees') would cover hearsay evidence, but is excluded in the Sixth Amendment by the words following the noun: 'witnesses against him.' The phrase obviously refers to those who give testimony against the defendant at trial. The court has nonetheless found implicit in the Confrontation Clause some limitation upon hearsay evidence, since otherwise the Government could subvert the confrontation right by putting on witnesses who know nothing except what an absent declarant said. And in ...

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