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Justices Rule Lab Analysts Must Testify On Results

Publication Date: 
June 26, 2009
The New York Times
Adam Liptak

Professor Jeffrey L. Fisher is quoted in The New York Times about the ruling in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, No. 07-591, which he argued before the Supreme Court of the United States. The Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic represents Mr. Melendez-Diaz. Adam Liptak reports:

Crime laboratory reports may not be used against criminal defendants at trial unless the analysts responsible for creating them give testimony and subject themselves to cross-examination, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a 5-to-4 decision.

The ruling was an extension of a 2004 decision that breathed new life into the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause, which gives a criminal defendant the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”


The case arose from the conviction of Luis E. Melendez-Diaz on cocaine trafficking charges in Massachusetts. Part of the evidence against him was a laboratory report stating that bags of white powder said to have belonged to him contained cocaine. Prosecutors submitted the report with only an analyst’s certificate.

Jeffrey L. Fisher, a law professor at Stanford who represented Mr. Melendez-Diaz, said perhaps a third of all states follow procedures that comply with Thursday’s decision. What that will mean as a practical matter remains to be seen. Criminal defense lawyers may still stipulate that crime lab reports are accurate, fearing that live testimony will only underscore their clients’ guilt. Others may insist on testimony in the hope that the analyst will be unavailable. Still others will now be able to prove that an analyst’s conclusion was mistaken or inconclusive.