Scalia and Thomas took a hard originalist line on a defendant right to confront his accusers; in alliance with three bleeding hearts (Souter, Stevens, and Ginsburg) to reach a decision that will vex prosecutors and strain state and municipal budgets:
WASHINGTON — Crime laboratory reports may not be used against criminal defendants at trial unless the analysts responsible for creating them give testimony and subject themselves to cross-examination, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a 5-to-4 decision.
The ruling was an extension of a 2004 decision that breathed new life into the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation clause, which gives a criminal defendant the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”
Four dissenting justices said that scientific evidence should be treated differently than, say, statements from witnesses to a crime. They warned that the decision would subject the nation’s criminal justice system to “a crushing burden” and that it means “guilty defendants will go free, on the most technical grounds.”
The two sides differed sharply about the practical consequences of requiring testimony from crime laboratory analysts. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the four dissenters, said Philadelphia’s 18 drug analysts will now each be required to testify in more than 69 trials next year, and Cleveland’s six drug analysts in 117 trials each.
Noting that 500 employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation laboratory in Quantico, Va., conduct more than a million scientific tests each year, Justice Kennedy wrote, “The court’s decision means that before any of those million tests reaches a jury, at least one of the laboratory’s analysts must board a plane, find his or her way to an unfamiliar courthouse and sit there waiting to read aloud notes made months ago.”
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, scoffed at those “back-of-the-envelope calculations.”
In any event, he added, the court is not entitled to ignore even an unwise constitutional command for reasons of convenience.
“The confrontation clause may make the prosecution of criminals more burdensome, but that is equally true of the right to trial by jury and the privilege against self-incrimination,” Justice Scalia wrote.
“The sky will not fall after today’s decision,” he added.