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Supreme Court to hear another Confrontation Clause case on admissibility of lab tests

The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] granted certiorari in two additional cases Tuesday including a case similar to one decided last week involving whether the Confrontation Clause [Cornell LII backgrounder] case blocks the admissibility of lab test data when the analyst who conducted the tests is not called to testify. In Williams v. Illinois [docket; cert. petition, PDF] the court will decide whether a state rule of evidence violates the Confrontation Clause when it permits an expert witness to testify about the results of a DNA test performed at a private laboratory, when the analysts who performed the tests do not testify, and the expert witness has not had an opportunity to confront the actual analysts. Sandy Williams was convicted of sexual assault. At trial, an expert for the prosecution testified that the DNA test results of samples from the sexual assault kit, conducted by a private company, matched the profile for Williams contained in the police crimes database. The test results were not actually entered into evidence, but the results were presented through the testimony of the expert witness, over Williams' objections. On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court [official website] upheld the rule because the DNA test results were not being offered for the truth of the the tests, but for the non-hearsay purpose of providing a background for the expert witness's conclusions. Last week, the Supreme Court ruled in Bullcoming v. New Mexico [Cornell LII backgrounder; JURIST report] that the Confrontation Clause does not allow laboratory reports to be entered into evidence against a defendant without the testimony of the analyst who personally observed the test and certified the report.

The Supreme Court will also hear Sackett v. Environmental Protection Agency [docket; cert. petition, PDF] in which petitioners are challenging whether the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [official website] can enforce a compliance order issued without any opportunity to contest the order. The Sacketts own land near Priest Lake, Idaho on which they intended to build a house. After purchasing the property and obtaining local permits, they began to grade the land for construction of a house. They received an EPA Administrative Compliance Order that said the grading of the land was in violation of the Clean Water Act (CWA) [text, PDF] and imposed harsh civil penalties for non-compliance. The Sacketts disagree that their property is a wetland under the meaning of the CWA. The case raises the issue of whether the CWA precludes pre-enforcement judicial review, and if so, whether that violates the petitioner's Due Process [Cornell LII backgrounder] rights. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] upheld [opinion, PDF] the dismissal of the suit.

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