Friday, July 1, 2011

Supreme Court Ruling Accepts No Substitutes in Crime Lab Testimony

Two years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that crime laboratory reports may not be used against criminal defendants at trial unless the analysts responsible for creating them give testimony and subject themselves to cross-examination. But it left an important question open: whether the required testimony must come from the analyst who actually did the work or from a colleague or a supervisor.

The 2009 ruling, Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, was decided by a 5-to-4 vote that scrambled the usual ideological alignments. Prosecutors and analysts have complained that the decision imposed a crushing burden on them. They added that they hoped the addition of two new justices in the interim would cause the court to reverse course.

But on Thursday, in another 5-to-4 decision, the court disappointed law enforcement officials by reaffirming Melendez-Diaz. The court went on to extend the Melendez-Diaz decision, saying that what it called surrogate testimony would not do.

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