Here is the Supreme Court’s just released decision in United States v. Williams finding no Confrontation Clause violation when a state expert witness testifies based on reports from an outside lab.  The Court held that there was no violation because the defendant had the opportunity to cross-examine the expert who testified as to the DNA match by the outside lab.  Our prior obsession with the case here and here to name a few.

Here’s how the opinions broke down: 

Plurality opinion by ALITO, J., joined by ROBERTS, and KENNEDY and BREYER.

Concurring opinion by BREYER.

Concurring in the judgment THOMAS.  Justice Thomas finally says what everyone is thinking about this confrontation case, “In my view, however, there was no plausible reason for the introduction of the statements [in outside lab report] other than to establish [the] truth” of the statements in the report.

Dissenting opinion by KAGAN, joined by SCALIA, GINSBURG, and SOTOMAYOR.

11 Responses to “SCOTUS in Williams – No Confrontation Violation [updated]”

  1. stewie says:

    “This conclusion is entirely consistent with Bullcoming and Melendez-Diaz.” The plurality opinion types a version of this several times, suggesting they recognize that no, it is not exactly consistent with those two cases.

  2. Mike "No Man" Navarre says:

    I’m not even sure the plurality opinion has a precedential weight to care whether it is consistent with Bullcoming and Melendez-Diaz.  Although my thinking on that is evolving.

  3. RY says:

    Seems to me Williams will be easily distinguished from other cases on the standard MJ alone vs. members argument.  That is, I’m not sure the decision comes out the same in front of members given the limits of providing inadmissible evidence before a jury.  It wouldn’t make a difference to Justice Thomas, but it would seem to change a few votes.

  4. John the JAG says:

    From my preliminary read, it seems that the opinion would have relevance to a members case, but that more focus would go into the adequacy and effectiveness of limiting instructions, etc.

  5. stewie says:

    True, given there isn’t a single reason that makes it to five votes, then this case would pretty much seem to be limited to the facts of this case, and not able to be used as much precedent for future cases. IF J. Thomas had signed on to the reasoning of J. Alito then MAYBE, but even then, J. Breyer doesn’t seem to sign on to the reasoning of J. Alito, so the plurality opinion’s reasoning seems to only really have the support of three of the justices.

  6. Zachary Spilman says:

    ALITO, J., announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which ROBERTS, C. J., and KENNEDY and BREYER, JJ., joined. BREYER, J., filed a concurring opinion. THOMAS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment. KAGAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which SCALIA, GINSBURG, and SOTOMAYOR, JJ., joined.

    What a lineup. Justices Scalia and Alito disagree, and Justice Scalia agrees with Justices Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor?! Pigs flying… dogs and cats sleeping together…

  7. John Harwood says:

    +1 to Zachary’s comment, above: I wonder if we’ll get the same line-up of justices on each side of the Obamacare opinion.

  8. stewie says:

    J. Ginsburg just said “sharp disagreement rate will go up next week, and the week after.”
    Which has been translated to mean either that liberals will be upset with HCA going down OR conservatives will be upset with HCA staying.
    I suspect it will end up being some sort of hodgepodge with Kennedy in the middle of it, some of it is retained, some is not. But no, I don’t think we see such a non-traditional lineup for that one. Scalia just came out with a book that says he was wrong about Wickard, so he’s going to do a 180 on that one.

  9. Zachary Spilman says:

    Even if the Cellmark report had been introduced for its truth, we would nevertheless conclude that there was no Confrontation Clause violation.

    Williams, slip op. at 28.

    In Melendez-Diaz and Bullcoming, the Court held that the particular forensic reports at issue qualified as testimonial statements, but the Court did not hold that all forensic reports fall into the same category. Introduction of the reports in those cases ran afoul of the Confrontation Clause because they were the equivalent of affidavits made for the purpose of proving the guilt of a particular criminal defendant at trial.

    Williams, slip op at 30-31.

    Why does this sound familiar? Wait, I remember…

    Finally, “it is well-settled that under both the Confrontation Clause and the rules of evidence, machine-generated data and printouts are not statements and thus not hearsay—machines are not declarants—and such data is therefore not ‘testimonial.’” 69 M.J. at 224 (Blazier II). While Bullcoming didn’t directly address this question, the admissibility of business records of this sort, whose assembly requires the “concurrence of persons, each of whom can contribute no more than a slight part,” is well-settled. Palmer v. Hoffman, 318 U.S. 109, 112 (1943).

    Bullcoming is no Blazier, CAAFlog, June 23 2011.

    You may wonder what other similarity there is between the Blazier cases and Williams….

    It has long been accepted that an expert witness may voice an opinion based on facts concerning the events at issue in a particular case even if the expert lacks firsthand knowledge of those facts.

    Williams, slip op. at 13.

    Third, “an expert witness may review and rely upon the work of others, including laboratory testing conducted by others, so long as they reach their own opinions in conformance with evidentiary rules regarding expert opinions. An expert witness need not necessarily have personally performed a forensic test in order to review and interpret the results and data of that test.” 69 M.J. at 224-225 (Blazier II). At courts-martial (pre- and post-Blazier), government experts make in-court interpretations of machine-generated laboratory reports.

    Bullcoming is no Blazier, CAAFlog, June 23 2011.

  10. stewie says:

    except only three justices signed on to that, so that means 6 of them did not.
    By the way, heads up the HCA decision is apparently coming out at 1630 EST today.

  11. stewie says:

    nevermind that last bit, no it’s not, bad poop.