Supreme Court: Defendants Have the Right to Cross-Examine Forensic Experts


The Supreme Court ruled today that the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause gives criminal defendants the right to cross examine the scientists who issue forensics reports that are entered into evidence. The breakdown of the 5-4 ruling was interesting, with Justice Scalia's majority opinion joined by Justices Thomas, Ginsberg, Souter and Stevens. Alito, Roberts, Kennedy, and Breyer dissented.

Most interesting is that both the majority and dissenting opinions noted recent reports exposing the disturbingly high rate of error in areas of forensic science once thought to be foolproof. Scalia's majority opinion states pretty matter-of-factly that the Confrontation Clause preserves the right to question forensic experts, and that the Court's decision would have been the same even "if all analysts possessed the scientific acumen of Mme. Curie and the veracity of Mother Theresa."

But there's a pretty good chance that in the coming years we'll see more challenges to the reliability and admissibility of various types of forensic testimony. So it's encouraging to see that the justices are both aware of and have specifically taken note of the problems with the system.

Reason's prior covearge of forensics in the courtroom here.