Jared Alger killed a friend while hunting frogs in California. John Brewington was caught, police say, with cocaine in North Carolina. Police in Pennsylvania charged George William Yohe II with drunken driving. McClatchy Newspapers say these disparate cases confront the Supreme Court with a common problem. The rules governing trial testimony hang in the balance, as do numerous individual fates. This week, in their private conference to decide which caes to hear, justices will weigh 11 cases that test when certain crime lab or autopsy reports can be presented to jurors. The cases involve reports where the person who prepared them isn't around for trial.
It's a big question that keeps confounding judges. “The lower courts are very much in need of guidance,” said Stanford Law Prof. Jeffrey Fisher. The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment guarantees a criminal defendant the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” This means defendants, or their attorneys, can challenge the witnesses under cross-examination. The guarantee gets complicated when it comes to documents. In 2004, the court said a tape-recorded conversation that implicated a murder defendant couldn't be admitted without an opportunity for cross-examination. In subsequent cases involving crime lab reports, the court has said it's not enough for prosecutors simply to present the documents.