At the end of June, the Supreme Court decided a case that will fundamentally change much about criminal procedure. The case is Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, and the Court held that folks charged with a crime have the right to cross-examine the lab technicians who submit reports against criminal defendants.
This case will make the next few years of being a criminal defense lawyer very interesting.
This case says, in essence, that Crawford v. Washington, means what it says. If the government is going to introduce evidence against you at trial, it has to make sure that every single witness who is going to provide evidence against you testifies and is available to be cross-examined.
The impact of this decision on drug cases and DUI cases will be almost immediate – it will be harder for the government to convict because they will have to call more witnesses to the stand. And those witnesses will be subject to cross examination. Moreover, it will open up new lines of attack by defense lawyers on government witnesses.
Less clear, though, is how this will affect other prosecutions. There is language in the opinion that says that when a clerk of court submits an affidavit that he has looked in the court files and does not see any records of a specific kind, that he has to be available for cross-examination.
Assume that language sticks (it’s arguably dicta now); it could mean that IRS certificates that a person never filed income tax returns will require an agent to testify. It could mean that in a felon in possession of a firearm case, the governor’s office will have to send a representative to testify that the defendant was never pardoned. It could mean in an immigration case that an Immigration agent will have to testify as to the fact of a person’s deportation, rather than proving that through documentary evidence.
The point is, we don’t know exactly how this will play out; there are a lot of ways to use it and see how far the Court will let this go. Which makes it very exciting!
If you have questions about how federal criminal charges are different than state criminal charges, please visit this page on Maryland federal criminal charges or Washington DC federal criminal charges.