Confrontation Clause Cases (Part 5)

by | May 3, 2024 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Another seminal case dealing with the Confrontation Clause is Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts. There, Justice Scalia wrote for the 5-4 majority in relevant part: At petitioner’s state-court drug trial, the prosecution introduced certificates of state laboratory analysts stating that material seized by police and connected to petitioner was cocaine of a certain quantity. As required by Massachusetts law, the certificates were sworn to before a notary public and were submitted as prima facie evidence of what they asserted. Petitioner objected, asserting that Crawford v. Washington required the analysts to testify in person. The trial court disagreed, the certificates were admitted, and petitioner was convicted. The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed, rejecting petitioner’s claim that the certificates’ admission violated the Sixth Amendment.

The admission of the certificates violated petitioner’s Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him. Under Crawford, a witness’s testimony against a defendant is inadmissible unless the witness appears at trial or, if the witness is unavailable, the defendant had a prior opportunity for cross-examination. The certificates here are affidavits, which fall within the “core class of testimonial statements” covered by the Confrontation Clause. They asserted that the substance found in petitioner’s possession was, as the prosecution claimed, cocaine of a certain weight–the precise testimony the analysts would be expected to provide if called at trial. Not only were the certificates made, as Crawford required for testimonial statements, “under circumstances which would lead an objective witness reasonably to believe that the statement would be available for use at a later trial,” but under the relevant Massachusetts law their sole purpose was to provide prima facie evidence of the substance’s composition, quality, and net weight. Petitioner was entitled to “be confronted with” the persons giving this testimony at trial.

The four-justice dissent in this case encompassed the same four justices that dissented in Bullcoming. They were Justices Kennedy, Roberts, Breyer, and Alito.