557 U.S. 305 (2009), 07-591, E. Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts

Docket Nº:07-591.
Citation:557 U.S. 305, 129 S.Ct. 2527, 174 L.Ed.2d 314, 77 U.S.L.W. 4574
Opinion Judge:SCALIA, Justice
Party Name:Luis E. MELENDEZ-DIAZ, Petitioner, v. MASSACHUSETTS.
Attorney:Jeffrey L. Fisher, Stanford, CA, for Petitioner. Martha Coakley, Attorney General, Boston, MA, for Respondent. Lisa H. Schertler, for United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting the Respondent. Mary T. Rogers, Salem, MA, Thomas C. Goldstein, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Haue...
Judge Panel:SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEVENS, SOUTER, THOMAS, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a concurring opinion. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and BREYER and ALITO, JJ., joined. Thomas, Justice THOMAS, concurring. Justice KEN...
Case Date:June 25, 2009
Court:United States Supreme Court
 
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Page 305

557 U.S. 305 (2009)

129 S.Ct. 2527, 174 L.Ed.2d 314, 77 U.S.L.W. 4574

Luis E. MELENDEZ-DIAZ, Petitioner,

v.

MASSACHUSETTS.

No. 07-591.

United States Supreme Court

June 25, 2009

Argued November 10, 2008

CERTIORARI TO THE APPEALS COURT OF MASSACHUSETTS No. 07-591.

[129 S.Ct. 2529]Syllabus [*]

At petitioner's state-court drug trial, the prosecution introduced certificates of state laboratory analysts stating that material seized by police and connected to petitioner was cocaine of a certain quantity. As required by Massachusetts law, the certificates were sworn to before a notary public and were submitted as prima facie evidence of what they asserted. Petitioner objected, asserting that Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S.Ct. 1354, 158 L.Ed.2d 177, required the analysts to testify in person. The trial court disagreed, the certificates were admitted, and petitioner was convicted. The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed, rejecting petitioner's claim that the certificates' admission violated the Sixth Amendment.

Held:

The admission of the certificates violated petitioner's Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him. Pp. 2531 - 2542.

(a) Under Crawford, a witness's testimony against a defendant is inadmissible unless the witness appears at trial or, if the witness is unavailable, the defendant had a prior opportunity for cross-examination. 541 U.S. , at 54, 124 S.Ct. 1354. The certificates here are affidavits, which fall within the "core class of testimonial statements" covered by the Confrontation Clause, id., at 51, 124 S.Ct. 1354. They asserted that the substance found in petitioner's possession was, as the prosecution claimed, cocaine of a certain weight—the precise testimony the analysts would be expected to provide if called at trial. Not only were the certificates made, as Crawford required for testimonial statements, "under circumstances which would lead an objective witness reasonably to believe that the statement would be available for use at a later trial," id., at 52, 124 S.Ct. 1354, but under the relevant Massachusetts law their sole purpose was to provide prima facie evidence of the substance's composition, quality, and net weight. Petitioner was entitled to "be confronted with" the persons giving this testimony at trial. Id., at 54, 124 S.Ct. 1354. Pp. 2531-2532.

(b) The arguments advanced to avoid this rather straightforward application of Crawford are rejected. Respondent's claim that the analysts are not subject to confrontation because they are not "accusatory" witnesses finds no support in the Sixth Amendment's text or in this Court's case law. The affiants' testimonial statements were not "nearly contemporaneous" with their observations, nor, if they had been, would that fact alter the statements' testimonial character. There is no support for the proposition that witnesses who testify regarding facts other

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than those observed at the crime scene are exempt from confrontation. The absence of interrogation is irrelevant; a witness who volunteers his testimony is no less a witness for Sixth Amendment purposes. The affidavits do not qualify as traditional official or business records. The argument that the analysts should not be subject to confrontation because their statements result from neutral scientific testing is little more than an invitation to return to the since-overruled decision in Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U.S. 56, 66, 100 S.Ct. 2531, 65 L.Ed.2d 597, which held that evidence with "particularized guarantees of trustworthiness" was admissible without confrontation. Petitioner's power to subpoena the analysts is no substitute for the right of confrontation. Finally, the requirements of the Confrontation Clause may not be relaxed because they make the prosecution's task [129 S.Ct. 2530] burdensome. In any event, the practice in many States already accords with today's decision, and the serious disruption predicted by respondent and the dissent has not materialized. Pp. 2532 - 2542.

69 Mass.App.Ct. 1114, 870 N.E.2d 676, reversed and remanded.

SCALIA, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which STEVENS, SOUTER, THOMAS, and GINSBURG, JJ., joined. THOMAS, J., filed a concurring opinion. KENNEDY, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and BREYER and ALITO, JJ., joined.

Jeffrey L. Fisher, Stanford, CA, for Petitioner.

Martha Coakley, Attorney General, Boston, MA, for Respondent.

Lisa H. Schertler, for United States as amicus curiae, by special leave of the Court, supporting the Respondent.

Mary T. Rogers, Salem, MA, Thomas C. Goldstein, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP, Washington, DC, Jeffrey L. Fisher, Pamela S. Karlan, Stanford, CA, Amy Howe, Kevin K. Russell, Howe & Russell, P.C., Bethesda, Md, for Petitioner.

Martha Coakley, Attorney General, James J. Arguin, David S. Friedman, Assistant Attorneys General, Boston, MA, for Respondent.

Page 307

OPINION

SCALIA, Justice

The Massachusetts courts in this case admitted into evidence affidavits reporting the results of forensic analysis which showed that material seized by the police and connected to the defendant was cocaine. The question presented is whether those affidavits are "testimonial," rendering the affiants "witnesses" subject to the defendant's right of confrontation under the Sixth Amendment.

I

In 2001, Boston police officers received a tip that a Kmart employee, Thomas Wright, was engaging in suspicious activity.

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The informant reported that Wright repeatedly received phone calls at work, after each of which he would be picked up in front of the store by a blue sedan, and would return to the store a short time later. The police set up surveillance in the Kmart parking lot and witnessed this precise sequence of events. When Wright got out of the car upon his return, one of the officers detained and searched him, finding four clear white plastic bags containing a substance resembling cocaine. The officer then signaled other officers on the scene to arrest the two men in the car—one of whom was petitioner Luis Melendez-Diaz. The officers placed all three men in a police cruiser.

During the short drive to the police station, the officers observed their passengers fidgeting and making furtive movements in the back of the car. After depositing the men at the station, they searched the police cruiser and found a plastic bag containing 19 smaller plastic bags hidden in the partition between the front and back seats. They submitted the seized evidence to a state laboratory required by law to conduct chemical analysis upon police request. Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 111, §12 (West 2006).

Melendez-Diaz was charged with distributing cocaine and with trafficking in cocaine in an amount between 14 and 28 grams. Ch. 94C, §§32A, 32E(b)(l). At trial, the prosecution placed into evidence [129 S.Ct. 2531] the bags seized from Wright and from the police cruiser. It also submitted three "certificates of analysis" showing the results of the forensic analysis performed on the seized substances. The certificates reported the weight of the seized bags and stated that the bags "[h]a[ve] been examined with the following results: The substance was found to contain: Cocaine." App. to Pet. for Cert. 24a, 26a, 28a. The certificates were sworn to before a notary public by analysts at the State Laboratory Institute of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, as required under Massachusetts law. Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 111, §13.

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Petitioner objected to the admission of the certificates, asserting that our Confrontation Clause decision in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S.Ct. 1354, 158 L.Ed.2d 177 (2004), required the analysts to testify in person. The objection was overruled, and the certificates were admitted pursuant to state law as "prima facie evidence of the composition, quality, and the net weight of the narcotic . . . analyzed." Mass. Gen. Laws, ch. 111, §13.

The jury found Melendez-Diaz guilty. He appealed, contending, among other things, that admission of the certificates violated his Sixth Amendment right to be confronted with the witnesses against him. The Appeals Court of Massachusetts rejected the claim, affirmance order, 69 Mass.App.Ct. 1114, 870 N.E.2d 676, 2007 WL 2189152, *4, n. 3 (July 31, 2007), relying on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's decision in Commonwealth v. Verde, 444 Mass. 279, 283-285, 827 N.E.2d 701, 705-706 (2005), which held that the authors of certificates of forensic analysis are not subject to confrontation under the Sixth Amendment. The Supreme Judicial Court denied review. 449 Mass. 1113, 874 N.E.2d 407 (2007). We granted certiorari. 552 U.S. __, 128 S.Ct. 1647, 170 L.Ed.2d 352 (2008).

II

The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, made applicable to the States via the Fourteenth Amendment, Pointer v. Texas, 380 U.S. 400, 403, 85 S.Ct. 1065, 13 L.Ed.2d 923 (1965), provides that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right ... to be confronted with the witnesses against him." In Crawford, after reviewing the Clause's historical underpinnings, we held that it guarantees a defendant's right to confront those "who "bear testimony'" against him. 541 U.S. , at 51, 124 S.Ct. 1354. A witness's testimony against a defendant is thus inadmissible unless the witness appears at trial or, if the witness is unavailable, the defendant had a prior opportunity for cross-examination. Id., at 54, 124 S.Ct. 1354.

Our opinion described the class of testimonial statements covered by the Confrontation Clause as follows:

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"Various formulations of this core class of testimonial statements exist: ex parte ...

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