Supreme Court Holds Prosecutors to Task

Posted on: August 9th, 2011  |  1 Comment

In a recent decision from the Supreme Court of the United States, a unlikely 5-4 majority ruled that crime laboratory reports like drug analysis or blood work, may not be introduced as evidence against a defendant unless the lab analyst that created the report is available to testify. The case is Bullcoming v. New Mexico, No. 09-10876. (PDF)

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the majority opinion joined by Justices Scalia, Thomas, Kagan, and Sotomayor. The dissent, written by Justice Kennedy was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Alito and Breyer.

The Bullcoming decision comes from the Crawford and Melendez-Diaz line of cases that deal with “testimonial” evidence.

The issue is what rights a criminal defendant has under the Confrontation Clause of the 6th Amendment of the Constitution i.e., “the right to be confronted with the witness against him.” The Crawford line of cases has held that lab reports are testimonial evidence, and accordingly, a lab technician must be in court to testify as to the results.

The Supreme Court ruled in Bullcoming that the Defendant’s constitutional rights were not honored when the prosecutors failed to call the analyst responsible for creating a blood-alcohol level report, but instead called a colleague who neither observed nor reviewed the results.

The Sixth Amendment does not tolerate dispensing with confrontation simply because a court believes that questioning one witness about another’s testimonial statements provides a fair enough opporunity for cross examination.

∼ Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing for the Majority

Read more coverage on the decision at
The New York Times »
The Washington Post »

One Comment

  1. [...] This recent decision clearly demonstrates why effective cross examination is not available when the lab analyst who is called to testify knows nothing other than what is contained in the report. Why was the original technician on unpaid leave? Did his leave have anything to do with how he conducted tests? Beyond the questions of integrity and honesty, a defendant also must be able to question the procedure and standards applied by the technician. A colleague who simply reads the results can only testify to what should have been done, and cannot testify as to what was actually done. via [...]