Some prosecutors have been complaining about the Supreme Court’s recent Melendez-Diaz opinion. They worry that if they have to prove each and every element of the offenses that they’ve charged, and criminal defense lawyers get to challenge that evidence, that, perhaps, they’ll have to do more work before destroying a person’s life.
Prosecutors are worried that “[t]he percentage of cases going to trial could well go up if defense lawyers think that bringing lab analysts to court will help their cases.” They’re also concerned that with less incentive to plea bargain, defense attorneys might try more cases, and “that’s going to put more stress on the system.”
I can appreciate how Melendez-Diaz is going to be a big change. And it will require the criminal justice system to do additional work, by having people who collected and tested evidence against a defendant actually show up and be cross-examined by a criminal defense lawyer.
Here’s why this is a good thing – for too long our criminal justice system has allowed people to be convicted based on paper. As my former boss used to enjoy saying, you can’t cross examine a piece of paper. And lab techs, and others, have been allowed to fax in their reports, sit in their offices, and never have their work tested by the lawyer’s for the people they were sending to prison.
These tests are not infallible. They have error rates and the people who perform them are still human. Obviously, a civil society has to prosecute crime, but for too long defendants have been denied meaningful opportunities to challenge the evidence against them. Now, defense lawyers will have that opportunity.
Moreover, it’s good to have trials. Defendants have a right to have their cases go to trial, regardless of how much that stresses the system, or the prosecutor.
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.