Thursday, June 30, 2011

US Supreme Court Rules Like a Kindergartener

Last week the U.S. Supreme Court disappointed prosecutors and police when it ruled to require state experts who perform scientific analysis to also appear and testify in court about their work. In other words, the Court rejected the notion that a surrogate could show up for trial and testify about work done in their lab. But a kindergartener could have figured that one out. Persons accused of a crime have the right to cross-exam their accusers. That includes the person who performs a scientific test that incriminates them.

The case was Bullcoming v. New Mexico, No. 09-10876. It arose from the arrest of a New Mexico man on suspicion of DWI. At his trial, prosecutors presented a crime lab report showing Bullcoming's blood-alcohol levels were elevated. But prosecutors did not call the analyst who had prepared and signed the report, telling the court he was on unpaid leave for unspecified reasons. Instead, they presented a colleague who had neither observed nor reviewed the analysis.

The Supremes said that was unacceptable. Duh? Their ruling followed from Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts and Crawford v. Washington, which breathed new life into a person's right to confront the witnesses against them. Even Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas joined the majority opinion on this one. Taking a swing at the dissent's argument that such a requirement created an unreasonable burden upon the state, Scalia said: “The confrontation clause may make the prosecution of criminals more burdensome, but that is equally true of the right to trial by jury and the privilege against self-incrimination.”

In any case, another small victory for the defense and the Bill of Rights. But even a kindergartener could have figured this one out.

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