Following Supreme Court’s expansion of criminal rights, alleged cocaine dealer, Melendez-Diaz, goes free

February 11th, 2011

Well, this headline is somewhat misleading. Luis Melendez-Diaz was acquitted on cocaine trafficking charges after the Supreme Court reversed his conviction because he was not able to confront a forensic expert in Court. From the Boston Globe:

A Jamaica Plain man has been acquitted in a retrial of a cocaine trafficking case that went to the US Supreme Court and resulted in a landmark decision affecting evidence in criminal trials around the country.

A jury found Luis Melendez-Diaz, 32, not guilty yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court.

Melendez-Diaz’s appeal of his 2004 cocaine trafficking conviction led to a ruling by the Supreme Court in 2009 that the US Constitution’s Sixth Amendment guarantees defendants in criminal cases the right to confront forensic experts in court.

The ruling invalidated a Massachusetts law that allowed prosecutors to present forensic experts’ reports as evidence without giving defendants a chance to cross-examine them.

During Melendez-Diaz’s retrial, prosecutors followed the new regime laid out by the high court. On Wednesday, they called to the stand a chemist from the state Department of Public Health who testified that the substance allegedly found in the back seat of a police cruiser with Melendez-Diaz and two other men in 2001 had tested positive for cocaine.

In Melendez-Diaz, Justice Kennedy dissented:

By requiring analysts also to appear in the far greater number of cases where defendants do notdispute the analyst’s result, the Court imposes enormous costs on the administration of justice.

Certainly Justice Scalia’s majority opinion permitted social costs on the administration of Justice. But it seems that the Constitution, and the Court is willing to tolerate these costs.