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U.S. Supreme Court

Is Supreme Court’s Lab Testimony Ruling at Risk?

Posted Dec 21, 2009 8:26 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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On Jan. 11, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider when and how lab analysts must testify to satisfy a June ruling that holds crime lab evidence can’t be used at trial unless the analysts are subject to cross-examination.

The issue in Briscoe v. Virginia is whether Virginia’s procedure meets the requirements of the June decision in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, the New York Times reports. The state allows prosecutors to present paper reports to support their case, but requires the analysts to testify for cross-examination if the defense requests it. Defense lawyers say the analysts should be required to testify for the prosecution.

Justice David H. Souter provided the fifth vote for the majority in Melendez-Diaz, raising questions about whether the decision is vulnerable, the Times says. The views of his replacement, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, are unknown.

An amicus brief submitted by 26 attorneys general says that, already, the Melendez-Diaz decision is “proving unworkable.” Critics say court appearances are keeping crime lab analysts away from their work and creating backlogs.

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