By: Mary Ellen Flynn, Esq.
Should the accused in a criminal trial have the right to cross-examine the technicians who extract the DNA and who tests the DNA samples when the DNA is used to prove his/her guilt in a crime?
Surprisingly, the Supreme Court says No! In the June 18th Supreme Court decision of Williams vs. Illinois, the Supreme Court in a split decision (4-4-1) upheld a conviction of an Illinois man accused of rape even though the technicians who extracted the DNA from him and the alleged victim and the analysts who conducted the tests on the DNA samples did not testify. Rather, the only expert who testified as to the DNA samples was someone who looked at the tests and testified that the DNA taken from the alleged victim matched the Defendant. This ruling arguably removes the Defendant’s constitutional right to cross-examine and confront all witnesses.
This Supreme Court decision gives prosecutors more leeway in using lab reports without needing the analysts who prepare the report to testify to the accuracy of the report . The effect of this decision may very well make it easier for the Government to convict Defendants in all types of cases that involve any type of lab work.
The four justices in the majority were Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy. The dissenting justices were Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Antonin Scalia and Sonia Sotomayor. In the middle was Justice Clarence Thomas who was alone in his opinion but ultimately controlled the outcome of the case by ruling that the lab report used in this case was “not testimonial” and so it doesn’t fall under the Defendant’s right to cross-examine his witnesses.