Thursday, February 27, 2014

Pending and recent cert petitions on forensic lab reports

    This week, the Supreme Court denied cert in Medina v. Arizona, No. 13-735.  The case presented the question of whether an autopsy report concluding that the death was a homicide caused by blunt force trauma is testimonial.  I sure think that this ought to be an easy question to answer in the affirmative.  I do not know whether the Court is not ready to answer the question, or it believed that the case was not an appropriate vehicle for resolution of the issue.  Another pending autopsy case is James v. U.S., No. 13-632, which was filed on Nov. 22.  (There the autopsy report concluded that the cause of death was acute ammonia poisoning, but it did not otherwise indicate that the cause was homicide.)  The Government has gotten three extensions of time to file its response, which is now due March 17.

    The Court has been sitting on other petitions raising other issues related to forensic reports, and one way or another asking for clarification of Williams v. IllinoisTurner v. U.S., No. 13-127, Ortiz-Zape v. North Carolina, No. 13-633, and Cooper v. Maryland, No 13-644, have all been distributed for conference and held.  After Brewington v. North Carolina, No. 13-504, was distributed, the Court requested a response from the state; that was filed on February 3, and the reply brief on February 13.  And in Yohe v. Pennsylvania, No. 13-885, filed on January 22, the state filed its response on February 24.  So these cases too will soon go on the conference calendar, but the best guess is that they will be held as well, pending completion of the papers in one or more of the other pending cases:  Galloway v. Mississippi, No 13-761, filed Dec. 20, 2013, with the state’s response now due, after extension, on March 7; Edwards v. California, No. 13-8618 (in forma pauperis, seeking review of People v. Edwards, 306 P.3d 1049 (Cal. 2013)), filed Feb. 7, with the state’s response due March 10; and Derr v. Maryland, No. 13-637, which has twice been distributed for conference, resulting in a request from the state for a response, due March 17.  So I am sure that the Court will be impressed by the fact that there is a lot of confusion in the lower courts; whether it will be motivated to step in is of course another question.

    Meanwhile, the Court has denied several petitions raising Williams-related issues.  It denied a few, including the one in New Mexico v. Navarette, which I discussed in a prior blog post, on the first day of term (when, by the way, it also denied my petition in Berkman v. Indiana, raising another confrontation issue), and it has since denied a couple of others, Dyarman v. Pennsylvania, No. 13-611, and Lusk v. United States, No. 13-403.

    I encourage any readers who are aware of other pending (or recent) petitions that might be of interest to let us know.


paul said...

SG given fourth extension in James, 13-632, to March 21.

My prediction: Cert. will be granted.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have an idea what the court is looking for in considering cert in a forensic lab report case? Our case was GVRed following Williams, and we are seeking review of the ensuing adverse Court of Appeal decision in the Cal Sup. Ct. We want to raise the best points we can in the best way.
Any ideas will be appreciated.
John Bishop

Anonymous said...

Is there any way you could argue Thomas's solemnity requirement is satisfied in your case? I would think the four dissenters in Williams would be interested in taking such a case. Did the authors of the report follow some sort of standards (for example, FBI standards for CODIS submissions) from which it could be argued that by signing off on the report, they were effectively certifying its contents? Not such that would satify Thomas, but worth a shot.


Richard D. Friedman said...

I'm not sure which case this comment is referring to.

Anonymous said...

I think BWC is referring to the case I (John Bishop)asked for advice about.
As far as solemnity-- According to the reviewer's testimony (Ms.Jimenez of Cellmark) the report was signed by the reviewer (who did not observe or participate in the testing)along with another analyst who was a member of the reviewer's team. Only the reviewer testified. The report was introduced into evidence, but not the part bearing the signatures themselves. Unfortunately, the Court of Appeal got some of these facts wrong, which we are dealing with via a petition for rehearing. The case is: People v. Suen 2014 WL 1024001.

John Bishop

paul said...

Respectfully, I don't believe the Suen case will be reviewed by the California Supreme Court. Nor is it cert. worthy.

I believe the Court, if it is going to dive back into the CC mess, is going to take an autopsy report case where the report (or mere surrogate testimony describing the contents of the report) is the critical piece of evidence in the case and not subject to harmless error analysis.

The James case meets this criteria.

Has anyone read the SG's response in James?

Anonymous said...

Any idea when the pending petitions, which are apparently being held, will be redistributed for conference?

Anonymous said...

SCOTUS Blog did a story on these cases last Friday. It appears they are all on the May 15th conference.

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