Supreme Court Weighs in On Expert Witness Confrontation Confusion

On Behalf of | Jun 25, 2024 | Criminal Defense, Federal Crimes, Felonies |

Court Rules Defendants Have Right to Confront Forensic Lab Technicians

As we’ve previously covered, there are always potential issues when forensic evidence is introduced at trial. Last week, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling that strengthened a defendants right to challenge expert testimony in court by limiting the admissibility of expert statements made outside of the court. The case, Smith v Arizona, concerned an Arizona man who had been charged with multiple drug possession felonies after law enforcement executed a search warrant at his father’s property and allegedly recovered methamphetamine and marijuana. During his subsequent trial, a forensic scientist for the State testified that the substances seized were illegal drugs based on the report of another lab technician who had tested the drugs but no longer worked for the State and did not testify. The defendant argued the testimony violated his Sixth Amendment rights under the Confrontation Clause to confront a witness because the forensic scientist, or expert in this case, relied on data from another expert who did not “take the stand” and testify. “Our holding today follows from all this Court has held about the Confrontation Clause’s application to forensic evidence,” Justice Kagan wrote for the opinion. “A State may not introduce the testimonial out-of-court statements of a forensic analyst at trial, unless she is unavailable and the defendant has had a prior chance to cross-examine her.” Justice Alito agreed with the decision to reverse the conviction but believed the majority opinion, “inflicts a needless, unwarranted, and crippling wound on modern evidence law” by suggesting that all testimony if offered for its truth, which, “is just plain wrong” he wrote in a concurring opinion. In any case, the ruling clarifies what an “expert” witness is permitted to testify to in court proceedings, a key change which will make an impact on how trials are conducted across the country. If you believe you or your loved one has been convicted based on improper expert witness testimony or forensic evidence you should contact a post-conviction attorney to evaluate the case and determine if relief may be available.


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