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Williams v. Illinois and Forensic Evidence: The Bleeding Edge of Crawford

NCJ Number
Teresa M Garvey, J.D.
Date Published
June 2013
11 pages
After Examining U.S. Supreme Court cases relevant to the application of the confrontation clause to expert forensic testimony on research conducted by someone other than the witness, (principally "Crawford v. Washington" and "Williams v. Illinois"), this paper discusses strategies for prosecutors to use in such cases.
The court cases at issue involved testimony by a forensic expert regarding evidence analyses conducted by one or more individuals other than the expert witness. The issue under the confrontation clause is that every person involved in the production of evidence against a defendant must be subject to cross-examination by the defense. Given the U.S. Supreme Court decisions on this issue, this paper provides advice to jurisdictions that struggle with the recurring problems associated with multi-analyst forensic testing or by forensic analysts who may no longer be available to testify at trial. Prosecutors have the challenge of proving their cases without risking reversal on appeal for violations of the confrontation clause. Most prosecutors' offices are under budget constraints that limit their ability to secure the attendance as witnesses at trial of all forensic analysts in all but the most serious cases. This can be a major problem with "cold cases" brought to trial years or decades after the crime and the autopsy, because the original analyst or medical examiner is no longer available, or evidence samples may no longer be available for current re-testing. The paper presents eight alternative courses of action in such cases, acknowledging that several carry some risk of reversal under the confrontation clause. The report concludes, however, that absent a more definitive statement from the U.S. Supreme Court, live testimony with cross-examination of all analysts and technicians is the only way to guarantee that a conviction will withstand a confrontation challenge on appeal. 76 notes