Nov. 12, 2009, 4– 6:30 p.m.

LOCATION CHANGE: University of Richmond School of Law, Moot Court Room

The University of Richmond Law Review will host a symposium Nov. 12, bringing together Virginia legal experts to address a controversial issue in criminal law: the Melendez-Diaz decision. For criminal attorneys in Virginia, the decision and the implementation of legislation recently passed by the General Assembly represent a sizable shift in criminal procedure and administration.

The symposium will offer different perspectives and provide a forum for questions and answers.

The Supreme Court decided Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts in June. In a 5–4 decision, the court held that the Confrontation Clause requires the prosecution, if it plans to present a lab report as evidence in a criminal trial, to make the analyst who prepared it available for on-demand cross-examination by defense counsel. Prior to recent legislation, Virginia law did not require the prosecution to bring the witness to trial.

Believing that Virginia’s statute was in violation of Melendez-Diaz, Gov. Tim Kaine called a special session of the Virginia General Assembly in August.  Theassembly passed a bill providing for notice and demand, in which the prosecution, if it wishes to introduce forensic evidence during trial, must provide the defense with notice of its intention and give the defense a time frame in which to respond and demand that the prosecution provide the analyst as a witness at trial.

The result places stress on the already overworked Department of Forensic Science.

Legal experts, including members of the Governor's Task Force on this legislation and Richmond Law Dean John Douglass, a Confrontation Clause scholar, will discuss the case, the recent Virginia legislation, the impact on the Department of Forensic Science, and the upcoming Supreme Court case of Briscoe v. Virginia, which challenges Virginia's old statute that allowed a defendant to call a lab analyst as a direct, adverse witness.

Matt Farley, annual survey editor of the University of Richmond Law Review, said the issue is important because “up until the Melendez-Diaz decision, certified documentation for drug recognition and identification and breathalyzer maintenance and operation logs have been sufficient as admissible evidence on their own. Not so any longer. Now prosecutors and government lab analysts potentially will have to schedule and prepare testimony in thousands of criminal cases. The burden could devastate the commonwealth's criminal justice system, but the cost is arguably worth it. 

“As the majority in Melendez-Diaz stated, the Constitution demands this procedure because the Sixth Amendment guarantees defendants the opportunity toconfront witnesses testifying against them on any material element of the alleged crime.  For defense attorneys, the development represents a formidable tool in their arsenal; for prosecutors and forensic scientists, it is perhaps the most difficult aspect of drug-related and DUI/DWI cases. And looking to the horizon, these developments may be short-lived: the Supreme Court's make-up has altered since deciding Melendez-Diaz, and a related case from Virginia is slated for hearing in the high court sometime this term.”

The symposium offers 2.5 CLE credits. It is free and open to the public, with limited seating. Please RSVP to 804-289-8216 or lawreview@richmond.edu.  Refreshments will be served.

Roberta Oster Sachs
Associate Dean for External Relations
University of Richmond School of Law
Email: rsachs@richmond.edu
Phone: 804-287-1855

Matthew R. Farley
Annual Survey Editor
University of Richmond Law Review
717-451-1162 (c)

Related Campus Units

School of Law