SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE IN A COURT OF LAW
The law has been described as a seamless web.
Sometimes a case will come along that, on its face, may seem to be of very little interest to the legitimate business community. But when we take a look at the broader implications, we may realize that the Supreme Court ruling that appears to get a bad guy off, may actually enforce important constitutional principles that assist in the protection of the legitimate business practitioner.
Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts.
The Supreme Court decided this case on June 25, 2009. The facts seem fairly simple. In a Massachusetts state-court drug trial, the prosecution introduced certificates of state laboratory analyses stating that material seized by police and connected to petitioner was cocaine of a certain quantity. The certificates were sworn to before a Notary Public and were submitted as evidence of what they asserted. On appeal the petitioner argued that the law required the analysts to testify in person. The trial court disagreed, the certificates were admitted, and the petitioner was convicted.
The United States Supreme Court held that the admission of the certificates violated the petitionersSixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him. Many people are offended that a person facing a cocaine charge successfully attacked the conviction on a technicality. The case was reversed and remanded, and will doubtless be re-tried, but this time the defendant will have the right to have his attorneys question the laboratory workers who had signed the certificate stating that the material seized was of a certain nature and quantity. Perhaps the defendant will be convicted on retrial.
But the essential issue is that the right of all citizens to confront a live witness in the crucible of cross examination during the course of a trial is upheld. Obviously the majority of the United States Supreme Court in granting this petition for writ of certiorari takes the right to confrontation seriously.
We can imagine many instances in which a legitimate business person may be subjected to charges and the evidence bolstered by certificates signed before Notary Publics, but without the expert present to be questioned as to experience, qualification, methodology, variables at play, etc.
The case drew a vigorous dissent, involving four jurists including the Chief Justice, along with Justice Kennedy, Justice Breyer, and Justice Alito. In their dissent they say until today, scientific analysis could be introduced into evidence without testimony from the analyst who produced it. Well, precisely. And if the rule allowing scientific analysis to be introduced without testimony from the source of that analysis has been around (as stated in the dissent) for at least 90 years, we note that the United States Constitution has been around a great deal longer. And the Sixth Amendment, which allows among other things, effective assistance of counsel and the right to confrontation has, since the Fourteenth Amendment applied to both state and federal cases.
No citizen can ever match the government and its vast bureaucracies dollar for dollar or hour for hour in any dispute. The fact that an American citizen is now less likely to be convicted of anything based on a piece of paper without the right to question the author of that piece of paper, should be a point of relief for all citizens since no matter who you are, there is somewhere or other a piece of paper that, in and of itself, would be unfairly harmful to you and your freedoms.