U.S. Supreme Court

Justices Debate DNA and Confrontation Clause with Little Need for Lawyers

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Justices considering the need for a lab analyst to testify at the trial of an accused rapist became so engaged in the debate that the lawyers became secondary, according to several press reports of oral arguments on Tuesday.

According to the New York Times, the issue is whether expert witnesses can give their opinions on DNA linking defendants to crimes based on lab reports that aren’t in evidence. The defendant, Sandy Williams, was accused of rape based on a DNA match taken after his arrest on an unrelated charge. A prosecution expert testified that she matched the DNA to genetic material from the sexual assault, but there was no testimony from the company that created the DNA profile from the assault.

“The lawyers were listless and the justices lively at a Supreme Court argument on Tuesday on how prosecutors may use crime laboratory reports at a trial,” the Times said. A Washington Post report on the arguments said the justices know the issues so well that they “hardly need the lawyers arguing before them.”

Justice Antonin Scalia joined with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in arguing that the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause requires testimony from the lab analyst, the Los Angeles Times reports. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. and Stephen G. Breyer took the other side. “And so it went for the hour as the justices went back and forth,” the newspaper said.

The case is Williams v. Illinois.

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