Golden Gate University Law Review
DNA Analysis and the Confrontation Clause: “Special Needs” Category for DNA Testimonial Evidence
This Comment examines three recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions dealing with forensic evidence and how its use is affected by the Confrontation Clause. The Confrontation Clause provides a defendant with the right to confront adverse witnesses. Notably, in Williams v. Illinois, Justice Breyer pointed out that the Court has explicitly not addressed the “outer limits of the “testimonial statements” rule set forth in Crawford v. Washington.” Specifically, Justice Breyer asked how “the Confrontation Clause [applies] to the panoply of crime laboratory reports and underlying technical statements written by (or otherwise made by) laboratory technicians?” This question, while left unanswered, could have major implications in future criminal cases and could affect how prosecutors prepare for and conduct their trials.
This Comment addresses an open question regarding where the “outer limits” of testimonial evidence truly are. Part I of this Comment presents a brief legal background on the Confrontation Clause. It specifically details recent Supreme Court cases involving the impact of the Confrontation Clause on the use of forensic evidence. Part II presents a scientific background on DNA, the complexity of its analysis, and specific advances that may further complicate its relationship with the Confrontation Clause and the need for in-court testimony. Part III proposes a solution that would incorporate aspects of the three recent Supreme Court opinions and provide a workable way for prosecutors to admit scientific evidence, while allowing defense attorneys the opportunity to cross-examine appropriate witnesses. In essence, the Court should adopt a “special needs” category for DNA forensic testimonial evidence. This category would allow for judicial discretion when balancing the benefits of DNA evidence to the prosecution with the defendant’s right to confront adverse witnesses. This would present a solution to Justice Breyer’s concerns about requiring the confrontation of every possible person that worked on a DNA sample, but it would still allow a defendant to adequately cross-examine knowledgeable witnesses.
DNA Analysis and the Confrontation Clause: “Special Needs” Category for DNA Testimonial Evidence, 44 Golden Gate U. L. Rev. 195