Monday, November 10, 2008

Did We Say Confront "Witnesses"?

Today, the United States Supreme Court heard argument in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts (07-591). A central issue in the case is whether a crime lab report is, in itself, a form of testimony. Appearing for Melendez-Diaz is Jeffrey Fischer of Crawford v. Washington fame. Melendez-Diaz was convicted in Massachusetts of drug trafficking: evidence admitted during his trial included a crime lab report that concluded that the substance discovered was cocaine. No live chemist testified, and the trial judge told the jury that it could rely on the chemist’s reports as proof that the substance seized contained cocaine. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia allow drug lab reports to be admitted in lieu of live testimony.

Melendez-Diaz is arguing that crime lab reports should not be admitted without a witness as reports are prepared by law enforcement for criminal trials and can be fraught with error-the reports, and the witnesses that prepare them, should be subject to the rigors of cross-examination.

Click here for a summary of argument and ScotusWiki for briefing. Click here for more information on Forensic Lab problems. The right to confront witnesses means more than the right to confront pieces of paper.

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