I mentioned in a recent News Roundup that the U.S. Supreme Court granted review in Smith v. Arizona. The case tees up a question that has been lingering since at least 2012: Does the Confrontation Clause permit the admission of substitute forensic analyst testimony? This issue arises when a forensic report is prepared for use in a criminal case, but the testing analyst is not available for trial. Instead of admitting the report through the original analyst, the State calls a different expert—one not necessarily involved in the original testing—to offer an opinion about the accuracy of the report. North Carolina generally allows such testimony, but there is a split among jurisdictions on the issue. Smith has the potential to alter the legal landscape here and elsewhere regarding the use of substitute analyst testimony, so today’s post dives into the legal issues and potential impact of the case.
In her concurring opinion in Samia v. United States, No. 22-196, 2023 WL 4139001 (U.S. June 23, 2023), Justice Barrett makes a startling admission: “[W]hy not simply say that the history is inconclusive?” Justice Barrett, remember, clerked for Justice Scalia, author of the watershed confrontation clause case, Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), which relied heavily upon a historical analysis. See id. at 43 (“We must … turn to the historical background of the Clause to understand its meaning.”). In reciting this history, making it central to interpretation of the Sixth Amendment, Scalia rejected the view that the framers’ intent cannot be recovered from the remaining sources. Cf. California v. Green, 399 U.S. 149, 174 (1970) (Harlan, J., concurring) (“History seems to give us very little insight into the intended scope of the Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause.”). Indeed, Justice Thomas, writing for the majority in Samia, likewise makes “historical practice” a pillar of the Court’s analysis, albeit a history Justice Barrett finds disposable. Samia, 2023 WL 4139001, at *6. This post summarizes opinions issued by the United States Supreme Court on June 23, 2023 (Samia v. United States) and June 27, 2023 (Counterman v. Colorado). These summaries, written by Joseph L. Hyde and Brittany Bromell, respectively, will be added to Smith’s Criminal Case Compendium, a free and searchable database of case summaries from 2008 to present.
The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment generally guarantees a criminal defendant the right to confront and cross-examine his accusers in person. If a witness was available for an earlier trial or other proceeding and the defendant had an opportunity and motive to cross-examine the witness there, the witness testimony from the earlier proceeding may be admitted at a later criminal trial without offending the Confrontation Clause if the witness is unavailable at the time of trial. We have known for some time that this “prior opportunity for cross-examination” can be met at various stages of a criminal proceeding. See State v. Rollins, 226 N.C. App. 129 (2013) (testimony from plea hearing provided prior opportunity for cross); State v. Ross, 216 N.C. App. 337 (2011) (same for testimony at probable cause hearing); State v. Ramirez, (2003) (same for testimony at bond hearing, although the case was decided under hearsay rules and not expressly as a confrontation issue); State v. Chandler, 324 N.C. 172 (1989) (same for testimony from a prior trial); State v. Giles, 83 N.C. App. 487 (1986) (same for testimony from a juvenile transfer hearing). In all those cases, though, the defendant was present at the earlier proceeding, was represented by counsel, and the earlier proceedings could naturally be viewed as a part of the underlying criminal case. In State v. Joyner, 2022-NCCOA-525, ___ N.C. App. ___ (2022), the Court of Appeals expands the concept of prior opportunity to cross to a civil hearing where the defendant did not attend the hearing and was not entitled to counsel. Read on for the details.
A new case from the Supreme Court of North Carolina gives us a chance to revisit the issue of a defendant’s confrontation rights at a probation violation hearing.
Defendants can lose confrontation rights a number of ways. Under the various notice and demand statutes, failure to object and demand the presence of the witness in a timely manner following receipt of the State’s notice results in waiver of the right to personally confront the witness. See, e.g., G.S. 90-95(g); G.S. 20-139.1(e1) (among others). A defendant can also forfeit his or her right to confrontation by wrongdoing—where the State can prove that the defendant’s conduct resulted in the unavailability of a witness, the defendant loses the right to confront that witness. Giles v. California, 554 U.S. 353 (2005). Stipulations to the admissibility of evidence, the subject of today’s post, are another form of waiver. When the defendant stipulates to a lab result, the right to personally confront the analyst is lost. What process is due before the judge accepts such a stipulation? Is the stipulation itself sufficient to waive confrontation rights? Or should the trial judge personally engage the defendant to ensure the waiver of confrontation rights is knowing and voluntary before accepting the stipulation? The Court of Appeals answered that question in a recent case.
Can the defense question a State’s witness about pending charges? May the State question the defendant or defense witnesses on their pending charges? The Rules of Evidence allow impeachment by conviction of a crime under Rule 609, but nothing in the rules speaks to impeachment by evidence of pending charges specifically. The question comes up frequently enough that I wanted to write about it. Read on for the answer.
In my 23-year career as a lawyer no case has had more impact on the criminal justice system than the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Crawford v. Washington. That case radically revamped the analysis that applies for confrontation clause issues, holding that “testimonial” statements by people who don’t testify at trial are not admissible unless the prosecution establishes both unavailability and a prior opportunity to cross-examine. More than 10 year after Crawford, courts are still struggling with the meaning of the key term “testimonial.” In one recent case the Court of Appeals had to decide whether DMV records are testimonial under the new Crawford analysis.
As I explain in more detail here, notice and demand statutes allow the State to obtain a constitutional waiver of confrontation rights so that forensic lab reports and related items can be admitted without the presence of the preparer. Nevertheless, I get a lot of calls from panicked prosecutors wondering how they are going to … Read more
The U.S. Supreme Court’s new Crawford confrontation clause rule has had significant impact in child victim prosecutions, largely because of problems with getting children to testify. One frequent Crawford question that arises in these cases is: Are a child’s statements to a social worker testimonial? In a paper here, I explore the testimonial analysis and … Read more
Under the new Crawford confrontation clause analysis, testimonial hearsay statements by witnesses who do not appear at trial cannot be admitted unless the prosecution shows unavailability and a prior opportunity for cross-examination. As discussed in more detail in my paper here, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized a forfeiture by wrongdoing exception to the Crawford … Read more