Supreme Court Protects a Defendant’s Right to Cross Examine Witnesses

The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to United States Constitution requires that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with the witnesses against him….” With it’s decision last week in Bullcoming v. New Mexico, the Supreme Court strengthened the Confrontation Clause when it ruled that a criminal defendant has the right to cross examine the actual analyst who performed crime lab testing on evidence in the case, rather than a surrogate witness.

The effect of cross examining the State’s witnesses can make or break a defendant’s case. Whether the issue is cross examining the analyst who read the defendant’s breathalyzer results in a drunk driving case, or asking questions of the individual who analyzed DNA samples from the crime scene in a murder case, cross examination is the defense’s most effective tool. A Maryland criminal defense attorney experienced at using cross examination effectively can be the central factor to whether a criminal defendant is convicted or acquitted of the charges he or she faces.

In the New Mexico case, the defendant, Donald Bullcoming, was found guilty at trial of driving while intoxicated. The focus of the prosecution’s case was a crime lab report which showed that his blood-alcohol level was above New Mexico’s legal limit for driving. The prosecution in the Bullcoming case called an analyst to testify about the results of the lab test which showed Bullcoming’s blood-alcohol content, but called a different analyst than the analyst who actually performed the analysis.

The Supreme Court said that the substitute analyst was not sufficient under its prior holding in Crawford v. Washington. In the courtroom, evidence typically must be submitted through a witness with personal knowledge of the substance of the evidence. Then, the defense must be given the opportunity to cross examine that witness. Justice Ginsberg, writing for the Court, stated that “[t]he Sixth Amendment does not tolerate dispensing with confrontation simply because a court believes that questioning one witness about another’s testimonial statements provides a fair enough opportunity for cross-examination.”

The importance of a defense attorney that is experienced in the local criminal courtrooms cannot be overstated. Our Maryland criminal defense attorneys, including two former State’s Attorneys, are experienced at using effective cross examination techniques to defend our clients in criminal courts.