Court: Defendants Can Question Crime Lab

Scientists must be brought to court

Posted Jun 26, 2009 9:08 AM CDT

(Newser) – A 5-4 Supreme Court ruling yesterday gives defendants the chance to face authors of crime lab reports in their cases. Prosecutors who want to use lab testing undertaken for a given case will be required to bring its authors to court, where the defense can confront them. The ruling shows “a heavy dose of skepticism that crime lab reports are so reliable as to be beyond question,” writes Lyle Deniston in SCOTUSblog.

Labs aren’t always as “neutral or as reliable” as they’re said to be, wrote Antonin Scalia in the majority opinion; more important, the defendant has a right of confrontation. The court was divided on unusual lines, with three liberal justices and one conservative backing Scalia, and two conservatives and a liberal backing Anthony Kennedy’s dissent.

Members of the U.S. Supreme Court sit for a group portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington in this March 3, 2006 file photo.
Members of the U.S. Supreme Court sit for a group portrait at the Supreme Court in Washington in this March 3, 2006 file photo.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
In this April 7, 2008 photo, Justice Antonin Scalia addresses a group of law students, lawyers and faculty members at the Roger Williams University law school in Bristol, R.I.
In this April 7, 2008 photo, Justice Antonin Scalia addresses a group of law students, lawyers and faculty members at the Roger Williams University law school in Bristol, R.I.   (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, File)
In this April 7, 2008 file photo, Justice Antonin Scalia addresses a group of law students, lawyers and faculty members at the Roger Williams University law school in Bristol, R.I.
In this April 7, 2008 file photo, Justice Antonin Scalia addresses a group of law students, lawyers and faculty members at the Roger Williams University law school in Bristol, R.I.   (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia, FILE)
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