The Supreme Court of the United States held last week by a 5-4 majority, that a criminal defendant has the right to cross-examine forensic analysts under the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause. The ruling in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts requires Prosecutors who offer drug, blood, ballistic, or other forensic reports as evidence at trial to call the analyst who prepared the report to testify. This procedure allows the Defense to cross-examine the analyst, rather than the Court simply entering the unchallenged reports as evidence against the Defendant.
In Justice Scalia’s majority opinion, he discussed the importance of the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause, writing “Confrontation is designed to weed out not only the fraudulent analyst, but the incompetent one as well.” He goes on to state that “serious deficiencies have been found in the forensic evidence used in criminal trials.” In fact, forensic evidence such as DNA is not as full-proof as portrayed on television, but rather can and has led to many mistaken convictions.
Two recent Supreme Court decisions, Crawford v. Washington (2004) and Davis v. Washington (2006), made it more difficult for the Prosecution to enter witness statements into evidence without the witness’ live testimony; however until last weeks decision, forensic evidence had not been discussed. In his dissent, Justice Kennedy worried about how last week’s ruling will affect criminal trials throughout the country. “Until [this decision], scientific analysis could be introduced into evidence without testimony from the ‘analyst’ who produced it...This rule has been established for 90 years. It extends across at least 35 states and six federal courts of appeal.” He argued that the Court came to the wrong conclusion, undoing the rule based on two cases which do not even discuss forensic evidence (Crawford and Davis).
In Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, the Defendant was convicted of trafficking cocaine. He sought appeal based on the legal question regarding his right to cross-examine the analyst who submitted the report, classifying the substance confiscated from him as cocaine. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia urged the Supreme Court to uphold the Massachusetts Court ruling, yet the majority saw otherwise. Despite arguments that it would be an unreasonable burden to require analysts to testify every time the Prosecution wishes to introduce such evidence in a criminal trial, the Supreme Court majority felt analyst’s affidavits fall into the “core class of testimonial statements” covered by the Confrontation Clause, and that “the Sixth Amendment does not permit the prosecution to prove its case via ex parte out-of-court affidavits.”
Suppression of Evidence
In a criminal trial, the burden is on the prosecution to prove guilt beyond all reasonable doubt. The prosecution builds their case with evidence; some evidence stronger than other. There are rules regarding evidence, both State and Federal, which govern what evidence is admissible. As evidenced in the recent Supreme Court decision, these rules are ever changing. An experienced criminal defense attorney is an expert in the field of evidence and is knowledgeable about changes in the law. Upon reviewing a defendant’s case, a criminal defense attorney will determine if some of the evidence can and should be suppressed or denied admissibility.
If you have been charged with a criminal offense, contact the Law Offices of Marc Neff via phone at (215) 563-9800 or e-mail Marc@nefflawoffices.com for a confidential consultation.