Defense has the right to the horse’s mouth


DNA reportAll too often in criminal cases, a demand is made for discovery of lab reports prepared by government crime lab employees, only to wind up getting instead a report prepared by a “supervisor” who signed off on the work. This government efficiency move saves the crime lab some cycles, but it places an unnecessary barrier between the defense and the actual scientists who performed the work in question. When I serve a subpoena for a DNA report, I’m not interested in the supervisor’s “sign off” of the lab scientist’s work, I want to see the particular employee’s work and assess their methodology and conclusions myself (or through my expert).

The D.C. Court of Appeals agrees and ruled that the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause requires production in court of the crime lab employee who did the actual work. The Court found that it was substance of the testimony, not its presentation, that mattered, and that the supervisor in this case provided “critical testimonial hearsay” that prevented the defendant from realizing¬†his right to confront the actual witness against him. Because the supervisor was not personally involved in the process that generated the DNA profiles in the case, she had no personal knowledge of how or from what sources the profiles were obtained.

This makes sense. There is no point to cross examining a “supervisor” who has no knowledge of the critical processes that determine the outcome in a laboratory procedure. Only the person actually performing that procedure is going to have the knowledge necessary to satisfy the rigors of what the Supreme Court has characterized as “the crucible of cross examination”.

For more, read here.

– RP