On June 25, 2009, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, holding that forensic laboratory reports are testimonial and thus subject to the new Crawford Confrontation Clause rule. The case, which was decided by a 5-to-4 vote, was a blow to prosecutors, who were hoping that the Court would limit the impact of Crawford with regard to forensic reports. Four days later, however, the Court granted certiorari in Briscoe v. Virginia (No. 07-11191), which presented the following question: If a state allows a prosecutor to introduce a certificate of a forensic laboratory analysis, without presenting the testimony of the analyst who prepared the certificate, does the state avoid violating the Confrontation Clause by providing that the accused has a right to call the analyst as his or her own witness? Justice Souter had voted with the majority in Melendez-Diaz. Given his retirement, prosecutors were hoping that a new Justice might shift the balance in Briscoe. That, however, did not come to pass. Even with a former prosecutor replacing Justice Souter, the Court declined to revisit or modify Melendez-Diaz in Briscoe. The Court’s two-sentence per curiam decision vacated and remanded for “further proceedings not inconsistent with the opinion in Melendez-Diaz.” Thus, Melendez-Diaz remains intact.
Editor’s note: Briscoe was just decided yesterday. The opinion, such as it is, is here. Prior posts about Melendez-Diaz and its impact in North Carolina are here, here, here, here, and here.