Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sixth Amendment

"In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence."

The 6th amendment is vital in proving beyond all doubt that the accused is in fact guilty. If the 6th was not in the constitution we would rewind hundreds of years to the witch hunts! Even though a suspect for a crime might have evidence presented against them, they might not always be guilty, just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

October 15, 2009The Confrontation Clause for the Twenty-First Century -- A new Supreme Court ruling regarding the rights guaranteed in the Sixth Amendment helps people accused of crimes by ensuring the right to cross-examine lab analysts in court. -- October 15, 2009 /24-7PressRelease/ -- The Confrontation Clause for the Twenty-First CenturyArticle provided by Patrick J. McLainVisit us at A New Ruling Regarding Sixth Amendment Rights Helps Defendants; Ensures Criminal Lab Analysts Will Testify on Their Results Under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a person accused of a crime has the right "to be confronted with the witnesses against him." However, the particular contours of this right have shifted with time.Most recently, in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, the United States Supreme Court considered this right with regard to the use of criminal lab reports submitted into evidence without the testimony of the people who performed the scientific tests and prepared the reports. The Court rejected the use of such reports without supporting testimony, deeming them an unconstitutional violation of the Confrontation Clause.Although the full consequences of this ruling remain yet to be seen, this is a huge victory for people who have been accused of crimes. First, the ruling implicitly acknowledges that lab reports prepared by people are neither infallible nor mere repetition of objective fact. This opens a new avenue for criminal defendants to challenge the allegations they face.Additionally, the ruling increases the burden on the prosecution when pursuing allegations involving scientific evidence, such as drunken driving cases or drug crimes. If a prosecutor has to present an analyst to testify every time he or she wishes to demonstrate that a breathalyzer indicates someone's blood alcohol content level or that a powdered substance matched the chemical composition of cocaine, it becomes more costly to pursue every allegation. Ultimately, the decision defines the Confrontation Clause more clearly, and provides people accused of crimes the ability to challenge the allegations more effectively.The Confrontation Clause Before Melendez-DiazTo understand the significance of the ruling in Melendez-Diaz, one must first understand the prior interpretations of the Confrontation Clause.In reaching the ultimate holding of the case, Justice Antonin Scalia cited a prior decision, Crawford v. Washington. In this prominent case, the Supreme Court rejected the admission of "testimonial statements," prepared in advance of trial. The Crawford ruling said witnesses who do not testify at trial violate the defendant's right to be confronted by all witnesses against him or her.However, before Crawford, the rule for admission of testimonial evidence without supporting testimony from a witness was very different. Under the prior controlling case of Ohio v. Roberts, if testimony had "particularized guarantees of trustworthiness," it could be admitted even if the witness was not present.For example, under the Ohio rule, scientific evidence prepared in a lab report and certified as accurate by the preparer could generally be admitted. As long as the preparer could certify that he or she was qualified to prepare the report (qualifications were typically spelled out in state statutes) and that the procedures used to produce the result were accurate, the report would be accepted into evidence at trial, even without the presence or testimony of the preparer.The Role of Scientific Evidence in Criminal ProsecutionsWith the advanced use of science in criminal investigations and the increased demand for analysis, lab reports are frequently used to establish an element of the alleged crime. For example, a report could be prepared to establish that the defendant was legally intoxicated at the time a biological sample was taken, or that a substance obtained from the defendant or near the vicinity of the defendant was actually an illegal drug.For older cases, DNA swabs could be analyzed and compared decades after a crime to link a defendant to the scene. In many such cases, scientific results were the only evidence directly linking the defendant to the alleged crime. Prosecutors relied on scientific evidence to make their cases.The scientific evidence of guilt was considered by some courts to be produced by a machine and therefore infallible. Other courts considered the scientific evidence to be mere repetition of an objective fact made after the crime was committed.For these reasons and others, defense attorneys were frequently barred from questioning the accuracy of the reported results or the processes by which they were produced. In state crime labs across the nation, scientists churned through backlogged DNA swabs, blood, breath and urine samples, and seizures alleged to be controlled substances to turn out reports that implicated or exculpated defendants of the crimes of which they were accused.The Confrontation Clause After Melendez-DiazMelendez-Diaz creates new opportunities for defendants to assert their right to confront witnesses against them. Rather than simply admitting a report certified by a lab analyst into evidence, prosecutors must now present lab analysts to testify at trial. These analysts will likely address the accuracy of the result, the processes used to produce the result and their personal credentials.By requiring testimony from forensic analysts about the processes and techniques used in labs across the country, the Supreme Court has opened up these sometimes secretive operations to greater scrutiny from defense attorneys and the public. This increased scrutiny will hopefully put pressure on laboratories to produce the most accurate results and ensure the use of best practices in laboratory analyses involving criminal matters. Under Melendez-Diaz, the Confrontation Clause has true bite in the twenty-first century, as its drafters intended.

This video/rap intelligently describes the 6th in a trendy fashion. I danced to it.

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