One case that had a substantial impact on the interpretation of the confrontation clause was Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts. In this case, the Supreme Court of the United States considered the right to confront witnesses against a criminal defendant when it pertained to the use of criminal lab reports that were being submitted as evidence in the case without any supporting testimony from the people who prepared the reports or the individuals who performed the specific tests that provide evidence against the defendant. The Supreme Court rejected the use of these reports when someone did not provide supporting testimony. The Supreme Court held that such reports without supporting testimony violated the Confrontation Clause.
Effect of Melendez-Diaz Case
After this ruling was made, the immediate impact was the new belief that such lab reports are not infallible. Additionally, they do not simply recite objective facts. People make errors all the time and should not be perceived as infallible by the jury. The ruling made it possible for criminal defendants to more effectively challenge allegations against them. For example, in a DUI defense case, the person can now challenge someone who performed a DUI breath test. He or she may question the technician about his or her training on the machine, when the breath machine was last calibrated and whether the technician had been responsible for false positive results in the past.
The prosecution faces an increased burden of establishing evidence against a criminal defendant when scientific evidence is involved. In particular, this ruling can have a substantial effect on cases involving alcohol or drugs. When a prosecutor has to present an analyst every time that he or she needs someone to testify that a person failed a breathalyzer test or that a substance is actually drugs, the cost to pursue the case will be greater. The case served to better clarify the Confrontation Clause in the context of lab testing, providing individuals accused of a crime with a greater ability to challenge these charges.
Confrontation Clause Prior to Melendez-Diaz Case
Before this case came about, the Confrontation Clause had been interpreted by the courts to be different than the interpretation after this case. One controlling case, Ohio v. Roberts, held that testimony that had particularized guarantees of trustworthiness could be admitted when the witness was not present. Under this rule, scientific evidence that had been prepared in a laboratory report and that was certified as accurate by the person who prepared it, it could often be admitted. If the preparer certified that he or she had the proper qualifications to prepare the report in question and that he or she used the procedures in place to produce the result, this would suffice as evidence. The proper qualifications were often based on state law. This allowed for test results to be admitted as evidence as true without any cross-examination of the person who prepared the report.
Prior to Melendez-Diaz, another important case holding was in the case of Crawford v. Washington. In this case, the Supreme Court of the United States held that testimonial statements prepared in advance of trial could not be admitted as evidence. These were statements that someone had prepared ahead of trial to stand in for his or her own testimony. Witnesses who do not actually testify at trial were found to violate the Confrontation Clause.
Scientific Evidence in Criminal Cases
Scientific advancements continue to be made every year. Law enforcement officers and other analysts may perform a variety of scientific tests. Tests may vary, such as a test that shows a person’s blood alcohol content level at the time of testing or that a substance in question was an illegal drug. DNA evidence continues to be important. Today, touch DNA is a newer version of this important testing mechanism.
Challenging Scientific Evidence
Since the new court ruling, courts must evaluate the way that they admit evidence. Defense lawyers are now more able to challenge evidence based on scientific methods than ever before. Previously, defense lawyers were often barred from questioning the accuracy of scientific tests. Additionally, multiple news reports have surfaced showing lab technicians who lied about the results of laboratory findings, fabricated evidence or took shortcuts. A defense lawyer may challenge the validity of results and the efficacy of the person preparing the report.