Remote Testimony by Lab Analysts Authorized in District Court Prosecutions – Even Without Defendants’ Consent

The United States Supreme Court held in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305 (2009), that sworn forensic reports prepared by laboratory analysts for purposes of prosecution are testimonial statements, rendering their authors – the analysts – witnesses for purposes of the Sixth Amendment. A defendant has the right to be confronted with such a witness at trial, unless the witness is unavailable and the defendant has had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the witness. The upshot is that the State generally may not introduce these kinds of forensic reports in a criminal trial without calling the analyst to testify in person.

Since 2014, G.S. 15A-1225.3 and G.S. 20-139.1 have permitted forensic and chemical analysts to testify remotely in a criminal or juvenile proceeding via a means that allows the trier of fact and the parties to observe the analyst’s demeanor in a similar manner as if the analyst were testifying in the location where the hearing or trial is being conducted. Both statutes, however, have permitted such remote testimony only in circumstances in which the defendant fails to object to the analyst testifying remotely, thereby waiving the right to face-to-face confrontation.

This legislative session, the General Assembly amended G.S. 15A-1225.3 and G.S. 20-139.1 to authorize remote testimony by analysts in district court criminal proceedings regardless of whether the defendant objects.

These amendments become effective January 1, 2022 for criminal proceedings beginning on or after that date.

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