Supreme Court to Take Another Look At Melendez-Diaz

by dave on December 21, 2009

in Criminal Justice

In an unusual move, the US Supreme Court will hear a case that could alter or overrule the Melendez-Diaz decision, a case from just six months ago. Prosecutors and Attorneys General from states across the county are hoping the prior decision will be reversed or pulled back. The Melendez-Diaz decision changed the rules of evidence in cases with forensic and scientific evidence, such as drug or controlled substance identification, or Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) analysis in drunk driving cases. Previously, official “certificate of analysis” documents could be submitted as evidence, but the justices in that case ruled that supporting expert witness testimony must also be presented, so that the defendant has a chance to challenge and confront the evidence in court.

District Attorneys have submitted friends of the court briefs that the recent decision is burdensome and “unworkable” for the states, since they must arrange witness testimony in these cases more often. Of course, defense attorneys and civil libertarians would argue that efficient prosecution is not the goal of our criminal justice system. Miranda rights and court appointed lawyers are extra effort and cost, but are considered reasonable safeguards against unfettered state power, and fully supported under the US Constitution.

The new case involved BAC evidence in a drunk driving case, whereas the original Melendez-Diaz case was about forensic analysis in a drug case. But the issue of how technical and scientific evidence is presented and challenged is the same.

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