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Criminal Procedure — Confrontation Clause — DNA matches

U.S. Supreme Court


Criminal Procedure — Confrontation Clause — DNA matches

Testimony by a forensic expert that a defendant’s DNA matches DNA found at the crime scene does not violate the Confrontation Clause.

Even if Cellmark’s report had been introduced for its truth, there would have been no Confrontation Clause violation. The Clause refers to testimony by “witnesses against” an accused, prohibiting modern-day practices that are tantamount to the abuses that gave rise to the confrontation right, namely, (a) out-of-court statements having the primary purpose of accusing a targeted individual of engaging in criminal conduct, and (b) formalized statements such as affidavits, depositions, prior testimony, or confessions. These characteristics were present in every post-Crawford case in which a Confrontation Clause violation has been found, except for Hammon v. Indiana, 547 U. S. 813. But, even in Hammon, the particular statement, elicited during police interrogation, had the primary purpose of accusing a targeted individual. A person who makes a statement to resolve an ongoing emergency is not like a trial witness because the declarant’s purpose is to bring an end to an ongoing threat. Michigan v. Bryant, 562 U. S. ___, ___. Such a statement’s admissibility “is the concern of . . . rules of evidence, not the Confrontation Clause. ” Id., ___–___ . The forensic reports in Melendez-Diaz and Bullcoming ran afoul of the Confrontation Clause because they were the equivalent of affidavits made for the purpose of proving a particular criminal defendant’s guilt. But the Cellmark report’s primary purpose was to catch a dangerous rapist who was still at large, not to obtain evidence for use against petitioner, who was neither in custody nor under suspicion at that time. Nor could anyone at Cellmark possibly know that the profile would inculpate petitioner. There was thus no “prospect of fabrication” and no incentive to produce anything other than a scientifically sound and reliable profile. Bryant, supra, at ___, ___. Lab technicians producing a DNA profile generally have no way of knowing whether it will turn out to be incriminating, exonerating, or both. And with numerous technicians working on a profile, it is likely that each technician’s sole purpose is to perform a task in accordance with accepted procedures. The knowledge that defects in a DNA profile may be detected from the profile itself provides a further safeguard.

939 N. E. 2d 268, affirmed.

10-8505 Williams v. Illinois

Alito, J.; Breyer, J., concurring; Thomas, J., concurring; Kagan, J., dissenting.

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