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Sandy Williams v. Illinois, USSC No. 10-8505, cert granted 6/28/11


Decision below: People v. Williams, 238 Ill. 2d 125 (Ill. S. Ct. No. 107550)

Question Presented (by the Court):

Whether a state rule of evidence allowing an expert witness to testify about the results of DNA testing performed by non-testifying analysts, where the defendant has no opportunity to confront the actual analysts, violates the Confrontation Clause.

Hmm. Didn’t the Court just get done resolving this issue? Not quite. The QP recited above (from the Court’s website, but taken verbatim from the Petition) doesn’t exactly capture the issue, which is described with a bit more refinement by SCOTUSblog:

Whether the Court should grant certiorari to review the Illinois Supreme Court’s judgment that a testifying expert’s reliance on the results of DNA analysis conducted at a private laboratory did not implicate the Confrontation Clause because references to the data generated by non-testifying analysts was offered not for the truth of the matter asserted, but rather for the non-hearsay purpose of explaining the basis of the expert’s own, independent opinions.

Here’s what the Illinois supreme court had to say, in pertinent part:

The hearsay rule generally prohibits the introduction of an out-of-court statement offered  to prove the truth of the matter asserted therein. Lovejoy, 235 Ill. 2d at 145; People v. Tenney, 205 Ill. 2d 411,432-33 (2002). Underlying facts and data, however, may be disclosed by an expert, not for the truth of the matter asserted, but for the purpose of explaining the basis for his opinion. Lovejoy, 235 Ill. 2d at 143. Moreover, it is well established that an expert may testify about the findings and conclusions of a non-testifying expert that he used in forming his opinions. Lovejoy, 235 Ill. 2d at 143.

Like Lovejoy and  Johnson, Lambatos’ testimony about Cellmark’s report  was not  admitted for the truth of the matter asserted. The State introduced this testimony, rather, to show the underlying facts and data Lambatos used before rendering an expert opinion in this case. …

The defendant’s suggestion that Lambatos was merely a“conduit”for Cellmark’s report and that the report was entirely dispositive of Lambatos’ opinion, and thus hearsay, is not compelling. Her testimony consisted of her expert comparison of the DNA profile in the ISP database with the DNA profile from the kit prepared by Cellmark. She used her own expertise to compare the two profiles before her….

In sum, the State did not offer Lambatos’ testimony regarding the Cellmark report for the truth of the matter asserted and this testimony did not constitute “hearsay.” Thus, the trial court and appellate court properly concluded that Crawford considerations did not apply here. Lambatos disclosed the underlying facts from Cellmark’s report for the limited purpose of explaining the basis for her opinion on the critical issue concerning whether there was a DNA match between the defendant’s blood sample and the semen sample recovered from L.J. …

This cert grant implicates the very foundation of the expert witness rule for certain cases (criminal in the first instance, the confrontation clause not applying to civil cases; and “testimonial” hearsay in the second). The rule in Wisconsin was summarized in State v. Craig A. Swope, 2008 WI App 175, ¶35:

In State v. Watson, 227 Wis. 2d 167, 195, 595 N.W.2d 403 (1999), the supreme court explained: “In Kolpin v. Pioneer Power & Light, 162 Wis. 2d 1, 37, 469 N.W.2d 595 (1991), we stated that ‘even if [the expert] arguably relied on hearsay in forming [the expert’s] opinion, [the expert’s] opinion is still admissible.’” We note, however, that

[Wisconsin Stat. §] 907.03 is not a hearsay exception. Hearsay data upon which the expert’s opinion is predicated may not be automatically admitted into evidence by the proponent and used for the truth of the matter asserted unless the data are otherwise admissible under a recognized exception to the hearsay rule. (Citation omitted.)

State v. Weber, 174 Wis. 2d 98, 107, 496 N.W.2d 762 (Ct. App. 1993).

Keeping in mind, again, the crucial qualifier “testimonial,” this rule is now up for grabs. Richard Friedman: “The case presents the issue of what I have called the ‘not for the truth’ end-run in the context of expert evidence: The Illinois Supreme Court held that the absent analyst’s report was introduced not for the truth of what it asserted but rather ‘to show the underlying facts and data [the in-court witness] used before rendering an expert opinion in this case.’ I will write something more substantive on this later.” Colin Miller also promises a post. Make sure to check out both these experts.

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