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Justices Favor AZ Man In Case Challenging Expert Testimony

The majority of Supreme Court justices took issue on Wednesday with substitute expert testimony in an Arizona man’s drug conviction, signaling a narrow ruling finding his Sixth Amendment rights had been violated. “I get that there are many ways to skin the evidentiary cat, but this case just seems to fall on the wrong line of it,” Justice Neil Gorsuch said. Arizona charged Jason Smith with drug-related offenses. Smith was at his father’s home when Yuma County Narcotics Force officers arrived to search the premises. In a shed on the property, officers found what they suspected was marijuana, cannabis wax, methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.  Smith maintained that he was only on the property to check on his sick father, who died before the trial started.

Arizona’s case included an expert analysis of the substances found on the property; however, the expert who testified against Smith was not the same expert who analyzed the evidence, reports Courthouse News Service. Forensic analyst Elizabeth Rast conducted the tests. By the time of Smith’s trial, Rast had left the crime lab. Arizona asked another analyst, Greg Longoni, to be a substitute expert for Rast during the trial. 

Longoni testified about the crime lab standards and procedures that Rast conducted. Smith was convicted. He argues on appeal that not being able to cross-examine the analyst who conducted the drug testing denied him his confrontation clause right to be confronted by the witness against him. There seemed to be broad agreement among Supreme Court justices that Longoni presented testimonial evidence from Rast in violation of the confrontation clause. 


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A daily report co-sponsored by Arizona State University, Criminal Justice Journalists, and the National Criminal Justice Association

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