Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts was decided today by the United States Supreme Court. This much anticipated opinion clears up the debate about whether certificates prepared by a lab technician or similar person are admissible against a defendant in trial without the witness being present to actually testify about what the certificate says.It is very clear that lab reports are produced in anticipation of trial and they are in fact “testimonial” as defined by Crawford v. Washington and Davis v. Alaska. Those cases hold that the defendant has the right to confront the witnesses against him and that testimonial evidence shall not be admissible unless the witness is “unavailable” and the defendant has previously had the right to cross-examine the witness.Justice Scalia delivered the opinion of the court and was joined by Stevens, Souter, Thomas and Ginsburg. Justice Kennedy wrote the dissent and was joined by Roberts, Alito, and Breyer. The dissent argues that these reports should be exempt from the confrontation because they are not normal witnesses, they are neutral scientists. Justice Scalia does a masterful job of demonstrating what a bunch of garbage that is.
“Nor is it evident that what respondent calls “neutral scientific testing” is as neutral or as reliable as respondent suggests. Forensic evidence is not uniquely immune from the risk of manipulation. According to a recent study conducted under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences, “[t]he majority of [laboratories producing forensic evidence] are administered by law enforcement agencies, such as police departments, where the laboratory administrator reports to the head of the agency.” National Research Council of the National Academies, Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward 6–1 (Prepublication Copy Feb. 2009) (hereinafter National Academy Report). And “[b]ecause forensic scientists often are driven in their work by a need to answer a particular question related to the issues of a particular case, they sometimes face pressure to sacrifice appropriate methodology for the sake of expediency.” A forensic analyst responding to a request from a law enforcement official may feel pressure—or have an incentive—to alter the evidence in a manner favorable to the prosecution.”
I really like the fact that Justice Scalia isn’t afraid to recognize that many times these “scientists” or other examiners are really playing for the home team. Several other rationales for allowing this in without making the witnesses come were made by the dissent and all of them were shot down as well. This really is simple…the defendant has the right to confront the witnesses against him so the prosecutor needs to bring them to court.Where do we go from here? The court gave it’s blessing to two different ways to handle these witnesses. Some states can require them in every case. Some states have laws that makes the prosecutor give notice of intent to introduce the certificates and then the defendant has to object. Either way will pass constitutional muster.As it relates to DUI cases, all blood and urine cases will need to have the witnesses from the lab there at trial. Additionally, I believe that this case invalidates Ala.Code 1975 § 12-21-300 et seq. These statute deal with testimonial evidence that the defendant has the right to confront. All lawyers need to read this case and be able to articulate the proper objections.