Monday, June 27, 2011

SCOTUS Adds to Difficulty With Admission of Lab Reports

According the National District Attorneys Association (NDAA) the U.S. Supreme Court recently decided Bullcoming v. New Mexico. The decision appears to make it more difficult to admit expert lab reports in the aftermath of Melendez-Diaz and Crawford. Those two cases in 2004 and 2009 established parameters for testimonial statements. The Court found that a certification by a forensic lab analyst was a testimonial statement, therefore its admission in lieu of live testimony by the analyst violated the confrontation clause of the Sixth Amendment.

The Bullcoming v. New Mexico opinion authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg held that the prosecution in a criminal case may not introduce a forensic lab report containing a testimonial certification through the in-court testimony of another scientist who did not sign the certification, or perform or observe the test which is the subject of the certification. The defendant has a right to be confronted with the analyst who made the certification, unless he or she is unavailable at trial, and the defendant has had an opportunity to cross-examine him or her prior to trial.

According to the NDAA’s Executive Director Scott Burns, if an out-of-court statement is testimonial, it may not be used against a defendant at trial unless the witness who made the statement is unavailable and the defendant has had a prior opportunity to confront the witness. Here, the State never asserted that the analyst was unavailable, nor did the defendant have a prior opportunity to cross-examine him.

In a concurrence, Justice Sonia Sotomayor emphasized the limited holding of the case, noting that the substitute analyst had no involvement whatsoever with the testing, was not an expert witness asked to give an independent opinion about testimonial reports not admitted into evidence, there was no suggested alternative purpose for the report, such as medical treatment, and the State sought to admit the first analyst’s statements, not just a printout. Thus, “the court’s opinion does not address, any of these factual scenarios.”

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1 comment:

Expert witness said...

It takes time before making a court decision. All evidence must be presented, analyzed and investigated to reveal the truth.

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