June 11, 2010
The Constitution (and its Confrontation Clause): An Inconvenience Pact
GUEST BLOGGER-SOLOMON L. WISENBERG
The Boston Globe carries this article today by John R. Ellement, echoing Massachusetts prosecutors' complaints that defense lawyers in the Bay State are "exploiting" the Supreme Court's 2009 Confrontation Clause decision in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts. (Melendez-Diaz applied the Supreme Court's earlier Crawford v. Washington holding to forensic analysts' laboratory reports.) According to the article, "the state’s 35 chemists have been ordered to prepare for court 1,606 times, but actually testified only 184 times." Allegedly, some defense attorneys insist that state chemists appear for trial in hopes that scheduling conflicts will prevent their attendance and result in dismissal. Imagine that.
Although the story is generally well-written, Ellement fails to explain, in even the most rudimentary form, the Confrontation Clause principles behind the high Court's ruling. Thankfully, he does quote Massachusetts Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers' President John H. Cunha Jr., who reminds Ellement that "[t]o just come in there with a piece of paper that says somebody is guilty is contrary to our system,’’ and that “[c]ross-examination is supposed to test the evidence. . . . The U.S. Constitution is not a technicality.’’ No doubt Cunha made the Confrontation Clause point in more detail that failed to make its way into print.
The article is not without some irony. One of the bellyachers who Ellement quotes, concerning the supposed deleterious effects of Melendez-Diaz, is John A. Grossman, "the Patrick administration’s top specialist on forensic sciences." Grossman seems to have spoken to the press as part of an official effort to negatively assess Melendez-Diaz. Yet Ellement also reports, near the tail end of the piece, that, "yesterday, the Patrick administration announced it had appointed a UMass Memorial Medical Center official to take over the State Police lab, a job that has been vacant since 2007 after mismanagement of forensic evidence was discovered." (emphasis added).