Latest Supreme Court Ruling Leaves Questions Over Sixth Amendment


In a fractured 5-4 decision in which no rationale commanded a majority, the Supreme Court on Monday seemed to retreat from a groundbreaking decision in 2009 that said crime lab reports may not be used in criminal trials unless the analysts responsible for creating them provide live testimony, reports the New York Times. That decision, Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, was reaffirmed last year in a second decision, Bullcoming v. New Mexico, which ruled that only the analyst who did the work, rather than a colleague or supervisor, would do.

Those decisions, both decided by 5-to-4 votes, were based on the Sixth Amendment's confrontation clause, which gives a criminal defendant the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” In a series of decisions starting in 2004, an odd-bedfellows coalition of justices from the court's conservative and liberal wings have breathed new but fragile and halting life into the clause. The question in the new case, Williams v. Illinois, was whether expert witnesses could offer testimony linking defendants to crimes based on lab reports that had not been admitted into evidence.

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