U.S. Supreme Court

Will Crime Lab Decision Fall? Sotomayor Sends ‘Mixed Signals’

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Justice Antonin Scalia had a rhetorical question during oral arguments yesterday in a case that asks when lab analysts must testify to satisfy a June confrontation clause ruling called Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts.

Scalia had written the majority opinion in Melendez-Diaz, holding that crime lab evidence can’t be used at trial unless the analysts are subject to cross-examination, the New York Times reports. Now the issue is before the court once again in Briscoe v. Virginia, and one of the justices in the five-member Melendez-Diaz majority, David H. Souter, is no longer on the court.

“Why is this case here except as an opportunity to upset Melendez-Diaz?” Scalia asked. When a lawyer tried to answer, Scalia explained the question was more of a comment. “I’m criticizing us for taking the case,” he said.

All eyes are now Souter’s replacement, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, a former prosecutor. She grilled lawyers for both sides, according to the Times and the National Law Journal.

According to the NLJ, Sotomayor “sent out mixed signals on whether she would provide the vote needed for reversal.” But the Times says that, based on the argument, “there was little reason to think that Justice Sotomayor was inclined to do anything particularly dramatic. She asked the first 10 questions, but she seemed focused on how to put the earlier decision into effect rather than whether it should be overruled.”

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