CONFRONTING FORENSIC EVIDENCE:
IMPLICATIONS OF MELENDEZ-DIAZ V. MASSACHUSETTS & BRISCOE V. VIRGINIA
New England Journal on Criminal and Civil Confinement 2009 Fall Symposium
November 13, 2009
8:30 AM to 1:30 PM
Radisson Hotel, 200 Stuart Street, Boston, MA
On June 25, 2009, the United States Supreme Court handed down a contentious decision, which many legal practitioners argue will dramatically change procedures for admitting forensic evidence in criminal trials. In Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, Justice Scalia, writing for the majority, held that the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause requires forensic experts, whose reports are admitted into evidence, to be made available for cross-examination. The Court found that the introduction of state forensic-lab reports constitutes testimonial evidence, thus requiring lab technicians to appear at trial pursuant to Crawford v. Washington.
The precedent set by the high court sent a wave of concern across the country regarding the insufficient number of forensic experts available to appear in the thousands of cases requiring lab results each year. Consequently, critics of the Court’s decision have characterized the ruling as a crisis, leading to a potential distortion of the criminal justice system. Other practitioners, however, endorse Justice Scalia’s belief that “the sky will not fall after [this] decision,” given that some states already comply with the Supreme Court’s ruling.
This term the Court will hear Briscoe v. Virginia, and answer the question of whether the state can avoid the Melendez-Diaz obligation by providing the accused a right to call the analyst as his own witness at trial. Unlike the Massachusetts law challenged in Melendez-Diaz, which prohibited defendants from calling lab analysts as witnesses, the Virginia law at issue in Briscoe puts the burden on the defendant to subpoena the lab analyst. As a result, Briscoe provides the Court an opportunity to overrule or significantly limit the Melendez-Diaz ruling.
The Symposium’s first panel will provide a forward-looking discussion regarding the impact of the Court’s decision on criminal prosecution. Litigants from both Melendez-Diaz and Briscoe will revisit their fundamental arguments, and the underlying rationales, facilitating dialogue about how these decisions will alter the practice of forensic analysis. The panel will also present an opportunity to explore where the Supreme Court will go with Briscoe.
Our second panel will provide a forum for academics and practitioners to weigh in on the state of forensic science in the aftermath of the National Academy of Sciences’ Report, while examining the role of legal rules in fostering effective forensic analysis. Panelists will examine procedures necessary to ensure the fair and accurate admission of forensic evidence in court. The second panel’s discussion will build upon the first panel’s evaluation of the Melendez-Diaz decision in state courts.
This year’s Symposium offers an excellent opportunity for scholars, practitioners, and the judiciary to contemplate the future admissibility of forensic evidence in criminal trials.
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