Sunday, December 20, 2009

Your right to confront witnesses

The NY Times reports:
But the appeals court reconsidered the case after a decision in June from the United States Supreme Court that prohibited prosecutors from introducing crime lab reports without testimony from the analysts who prepared them.

The appeals court reversed Ms. Lopez’s conviction, saying prosecutors had violated her constitutional right to confront witnesses against her by failing to put the analyst who prepared the blood-alcohol report on the stand.

But now, in an unusual move, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on Jan. 11 in a new case that raises questions about how lower courts may carry out its six-month-old precedent. Many state attorneys general and prosecutors are hoping the court will overrule its decision in the earlier case, Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, before it can take root, saying it is a costly, disruptive and dangerous misstep.
Costly, disruptive, and dangerous? This is one of our most basic American rights, and I am surprised that anyone questions it.

The Bill of Rights says that you have a right to confront the witnesses against you. The Sixth Amendment reads:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
If someone can be sent to prison purely based on an anonymous report and no testimony, then how can the accused possibly defend himself?

I am sure that the family court judges, commissioners, and govt social workers would love to abolish this right. Their lives would be easier if they could do their dirty work in backroom deals and anonymous reports.

The family court relies heavily on so-called expert reports, and they are often filled with completely bogus assertions and reasoning. Sometimes they are grossly misleading for what the don't say. The biggest thing keeping the system honest at all is that the so-called experts are subject to testifying under oath, and having to answer questions from the accused.

Some court psychologists are scared about having to testify, and they do everything that they can to avoid it. Some even do evaluations on parents and try to prevent the parents from even reading the reports they write. But as California law currently stands, any report is considered hearsay unless the author testifies in court, and the parties to the case have the right to have their own rebuttal witnesses.

Your constitutional rights are hanging on the thread of a 5-4 vote at the US Supreme Court.

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