Today, the Supreme Court issued a pluarality opinion in Williams v. Illinois
(No. 10-8505), affirming the decision of the Supreme Court of Illinois that the admission of expert testimony about the results of DNA testing performed by non-testifying analysts did not violate the Confrontation Clause. The Court also granted certiorari in Smith v. United States
(No. 11-8976) to decide whether withdrawing from a conspiracy prior to the statute of limitations period negates an element of a conspiracy charge such that, once a defendant meets his burden of production that he did so withdraw, the burden of persuasion rests with the government to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he was a member of the conspiracy during the relevant period -- a fundamental due process question that is the subject of a well-developed circuit split.
Below are detailed summaries of Williams
, from Paul Rashkind's Supreme Court Review/Preview/Overview
, Justice Alito announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion, in which the Chief Justice, Justice Kennedy, and Justice Breyer joined. Justice Breyer filed his own concurring opinion, while Justice Thomas filed an opinion in which he concurred in the judgment only. Justice Kagan filed a dissenting opinion, in which Justices Scalia, Ginsburg, and Sotomayor joined.
At Williams’ bench trial for rape, a forensic specialist at the Illinois State Police lab testified that she matched a DNA profile produced by an outside laboratory, Cellmark, to a profile the state lab produced using a sample of Williams’ blood. She testified that Cellmark was an accredited laboratory and that business records showed that vaginal swabs taken from the victim were sent to Cellmark and returned. She offered no other statement for the purpose of identifying the sample used for Cellmark’s profile or establishing how Cellmark handled or tested the sample. Nor did she vouch for the accuracy of Cellmark’s profile. The defense moved to exclude the testimony on Confrontation Clause grounds, insofar as it implicated events at Cellmark, but the prosecution said that Williams’ confrontation rights were satisfied because he had the opportunity to cross-examine the expert who had testified as to the match. The prosecutor argued that Illinois Rule of Evidence 703 permitted an expert to disclose facts on which the expert’s opinion is based even if the expert is not competent to testify to those underlying facts, and that any deficiency went to the weight of the evidence, not its admissibility. The trial court admitted the evidence and found petitioner guilty. Both the Illinois Court of Appeals and the State Supreme Court affirmed.
, six defendants were charged, tried and convicted on multiple charges, including a federal drug conspiracy, RICO conspiracy, continuing criminal enterprise, murder and related crimes. The crimes were alleged to have been committed during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Two defendants, Calvin Smith and John Raynor, defended, in part, on the dual grounds that (1) the crimes occurred outside the statute of limitations, and (2) they had withdrawn from the drug conspiracy before any time within the statute of limitations. After deliberating for 12 days, jurors asked: “If we find that the narcotics or RICO conspiracies continued after the relevant date under the statute of limitations, but that a particular defendant left the conspiracy before the relevant date under the statute of limitations, must we find the defendant not guilty?” Over the defendants’ objections, the district court instructed the jury that “[o]nce the government has proven that a defendant was a member of the conspiracy, the burden is on the defendant to prove withdrawal from a conspiracy by a preponderance of evidence.” The defendants claimed on appeal that the district court instruction was erroneous because it placed the burden of persuasion with them, instead of with the government. The court of appeals affirmed, although noting a split in the circuits.