Melendez-Dias v. Massachusetts

557 U.S. _

Case Year: 2009

Case Ruling: 5-4

Opinion Justice: Scalia

More Information

Concurring Opinions

Dissenting Opinions

Court Opinion Joiner(s):

Ginsburg, Souter, Stevens, Thomas


1st Concurring Opinion

Author: Thomas


1st Dissenting Opinion

Author: Kennedy

Joiner(s): Alito, Breyer, Roberts

2nd Concurring Opinion



2nd Dissenting Opinion



3rd Concurring Opinion



3rd Dissenting Opinion



Other Concurring Opinions:


In 2001 the Boston Police Department received a tip that a Kmart employee, Thomas Wright, was engaging in suspicious activity. According to the informant, Wright repeatedly received phone calls at work and after each of these phone calls, Wright was picked up in front of the store by a blue sedan and then dropped off a short time later. The police set up surveillance to monitor these events and when Wright exited the car they detained and searched him. Finding four clear white plastic bags resembling cocaine the officers arrested Wright and the two men in the car, one of whom was Luis Melendez-Diaz.

After arriving at the police station, the officers submitted the seized evidence to a state laboratory to conduct chemical analysis as required by Massachusetts state law.

Melendez-Diaz was charged with distributing and trafficking cocaine. At trial, the government submitted the seized evidence and three "certificates of analysis," showing the results of the forensic tests performed on the evidence. The state laboratory's "certificates of analysis" indicated that the evidence contained cocaine. Melendez-Diaz objected to the admission of these certificates. He asserted that the confrontation clause decision in Crawford v. Washington (2004) required the analyst to testify in person. The jury found Melendez-Diaz guilty, and he lost on appeal. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari to further clarify the scope of the confrontation clause.



The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution, made applicable to the States via the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him." In Crawford [ v. Washington (2004)], after reviewing the [Confrontation] Clause's historical underpinnings, we held that it guarantees a defendant's right to confront those "who 'bear testimony' " against him. A witness's testimony against a defendant is thus inadmissible unless the witness appears at trial or, if the witness is unavailable, the defendant had a prior opportunity for cross-examination. . .

There is little doubt that the documents at issue in this case fall within the "core class of testimonial statements." . . . The documents at issue here, while denominated by Massachusetts law "certificates," are quite plainly affidavits: "declaration[s] of facts written down and sworn to by the declarant before an officer authorized to administer oaths." They are incontrovertibly a " 'solemn declaration or affirmation made for the purpose of establishing or proving some fact.' " The fact in question is that the substance found in the possession of Melendez-Diaz and his codefendants was, as the prosecution claimed, cocaine--the precise testimony the analysts would be expected to provide if called at trial. The "certificates" are functionally identical to live, in-court testimony, doing "precisely what a witness does on direct examination."

Here, moreover, not only were the affidavits " 'made under circumstances which would lead an objective witness reasonably to believe that the statement would be available for use at a later trial,' " but under Massachusetts law the sole purpose of the affidavits was to provide "prima facie evidence of the composition, quality, and the net weight" of the analyzed substance. We can safely assume that the analysts were aware of the affidavits' evidentiary purpose, since that purpose--as stated in the relevant state-law provision--was reprinted on the affidavits themselves.

In short, under our decision in Crawford the analysts' affidavits were testimonial statements, and the analysts were "witnesses" for purposes of the Sixth Amendment. Absent a showing that the analysts were unavailable to testify at trial andthat petitioner had a prior opportunity to cross-examine them, petitioner was entitled to " 'be confronted with' " the analysts at trial.


I write separately to note that I continue to adhere to my position that "the Confrontation Clause is implicated by extrajudicial statements only insofar as they are contained in formalized testimonial materials, such as affidavits, depositions, prior testimony, or confessions." . . . I join the Court's opinion in this case because the documents at issue in this case "are quite plainly affidavits." As such, they "fall within the core class of testimonial statements" governed by the Confrontation Clause.


The Court sweeps away an accepted rule governing the admission of scientific evidence. Until today, scientific analysis could be introduced into evidence without testimony from the "analyst" who produced it. This rule has been established for at least 90 years. It extends across at least 35 States and six Federal Courts of Appeals. . . .

The Court says that, before the results of a scientific test may be introduced into evidence, the defendant has the right to confront the "analyst." One must assume that this term, though it appears nowhere in the Confrontation Clause, nevertheless has some constitutional substance that now must be elaborated in future cases. There is no accepted definition of analyst, and there is no established precedent to define that term. Consider how many people play a role in a routine test for the presence of illegal drugs. One person prepares a sample of the drug, places it in a testing machine, and retrieves the machine's printout--often, a graph showing the frequencies of radiation absorbed by the sample or the masses of the sample's molecular fragments. A second person interprets the graph the machine prints out--perhaps by comparing that printout with published, standardized graphs of known drugs. Meanwhile, a third person--perhaps an independent contractor--has calibrated the machine and, having done so, has certified that the machine is in good working order. Finally, a fourth person--perhaps the laboratory's director--certifies that his subordinates followed established procedures. It is not at all evident which of these four persons is the analyst to be confronted under the rule the Court announces today. If all are witnesses who must appear for in-court confrontation, then the Court has, for all practical purposes, forbidden the use of scientific tests in criminal trials. As discussed further below, requiring even one of these individuals to testify threatens to disrupt if not end many prosecutions where guilt is clear but a newly found formalism now holds sway.

It is possible to read the Court's opinion, however, to say that all four must testify. Each one has contributed to the test's result and has, at least in some respects, made a representation about the test. Person One represents that a pure sample, properly drawn, entered the machine and produced a particular printout. Person Two represents that the printout corresponds to a known drug. Person Three represents that the machine was properly calibrated at the time. Person Four represents that all the others performed their jobs in accord with established procedures.

And each of the four has power to introduce error. A laboratory technician might adulterate the sample. The independent contractor might botch the machine's calibration. And so forth. The reasons for these errors may range from animus against the particular suspect or all criminal suspects to unintentional oversight; from gross negligence to good-faith mistake. It is no surprise that a plausible case can be made for deeming each person in the testing process an analyst under the Court's opinion. . . .

Because the Court is driven by nothing more than a wooden application of the Crawford . . . definition of "testimonial," divorced from any guidance from history, precedent, or common sense, there is no way to predict the future applications of today's holding. Surely part of the justification for the Court's formalism must lie in its predictability. There is nothing predictable here, however, other than the uncertainty and disruption that now must ensue.