Crime laboratory reports may not be used against criminal defendants at trial unless the analysts responsible for creating them give testimony and subject themselves to cross-examination, the Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a 5-to-4 decision.
Noting that 500 employees of the Federal Bureau of Investigation laboratory in Quantico, Va., conduct more than a million scientific tests each year, Justice Kennedy wrote, “The court’s decision means that before any of those million tests reaches a jury, at least one of the laboratory’s analysts must board a plane, find his or her way to an unfamiliar courthouse and sit there waiting to read aloud notes made months ago.”
The outcome of the ruling for the prosecution is that forensic examiners and scientists will be more thoroughly scrutinized in the tests they perform. The process will require more effective documentation and the ability to play back for a jury exactly the process utilized to support any facts of evidence. This will not be difficult as Best Practices today are being utilized such as the video taping of the entire test and examination. Achieving a "Defensible Standard of Care" will however be even more of a priority for Operational Risk Management professionals.
The defendant will have the ability to cross-examine the analyst, whether it was making a determination on what the blood type was of the accused attacker or the date, time, and place that the defendant sent an e-mail from the office computer to a co-conspirator.
In the digital forensics environment, the ruling means that the subject matter experts will simply be spending more time in court and on the witness stand. This will impact the time it takes to conduct the trial yet the rights to examine the process, expertise and documented procedures for the evidence that has been introduced is an important issue.
From an Operational Risk Management point of view, this means that your eDiscovery and Digital Forensics certified examiners will be under the magnifying glass and subject to the questioning by counsel. We see an increased attention related in civil matters coming soon. Several states are asking that the outsourced entities associated with inspection of digital assets be licensed by the state itself, as a Private Investigator. This provision would subject the expert authority to also being legally certified in the knowledge of state laws pertaining to civil procedure, chain of custody and legal procedures on the handling of evidence.
The question remains on whether the Supreme Court Justice's were thinking beyond the test for the presence of a drug, as this case was focused on in MELENDEZ-DIAZ v. MASSACHUSETTS. The defense bar will be utilizing this ruling to go beyond the criminal courts to the civil trials where white collar cases are largely based upon the documents, e-mails and other digital evidence that has been retrieved using forensic procedures.
It will be interesting to see how this ruling impacts the professional licensing, certifications and documentation of examinations for the 21st century Digital Forensic "CSI".