The Confrontation Clause is one of the most important – but overlooked – parts of constitutional criminal law. While many legal analysts focus on the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unlawful searches and seizures, or the Fifth Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination, the most recent, positive Supreme Court developments in criminal defense law have been in the area of the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause.
The Sixth Amendment says, in part, “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court held in Bullcoming v. New Mexico that “[t]he Confrontation Clause . . . does not permit the prosecution to introduce a forensic laboratory report containing a testimonial certification, made in order to prove a fact at a criminal trial, through the in-court testimony of an analyst who did not sign the certification or personally perform or observe the performance of the test reported in the certification.”
That means that the State may not introduce the results of a chemical analysis or other lab result through an analyst who did not perform or witness the analyst perform the test.
The defendant Bullcoming had been charged with a DWI in New Mexico. The state had attempted to introduce the results of a chemical analysis of the defendant’s blood through a certificate and the testimony of an analyst who had not conducted the actual analysis. The Supreme Court held that the State must provide the live testimony of the actual person who tested the blood in order to present the results as substantive evidence in a criminal trial.
The ruling extends the Court’s previous holding in Melendez-Diaz, the 2009 case involving a drug test in which the Commonwealth of Massachusetts attempted to introduce an affidavit of the results of a test of a substance believed to be an illegal drug at trial.