As lawmakers and state officials scramble to respond to a recent Supreme Court decision that affects how prosecutors use laboratory evidence, a possible solution lies in Sonia Sotomayor.
If the Senate approves Sotomayor’s nomination to the nation’s highest court, the newest justice would help decide a case next year — Briscoe et al v. Virginia — that could satisfy concerns about those evidentiary issues.
I reported last week that prosecutors and some lawmakers are worried that the latest decision, in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, would yield hundreds of case dismissals.
By a 5-4 margin, justices ruled that lab evidence in drug and drunken driving cases is inadmissible unless the technician who performed the analysis comes to court to testify.
The Briscoe case is similar to Melendez-Diaz, and lawmakers believe the Supreme Court agreed to hear it in order to draw distinctions that would apply to Virginia law.
Retiring Justice David Souter was among the five justices to support the majority opinion in Melendez-Diaz. If Sotomayor is confirmed, and if she were to vote differently on Briscoe than Souter did on Melendez-Diaz, prosecutors could introduce lab evidence without being required to subpoena the technician.
It takes just four justices to agree for the Supreme Court to hear a case. Perhaps the dissenters in Melendez-Diaz are hopeful Sotomayor may join their side in Briscoe?