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Williams v. Illinois

Supreme Court of the United States

December 6, 2011, Argued; June 18, 2012, Decided

No. 10-8505

Opinion

 [*56] Justice Alito announced the judgment of the  [****13] Court and delivered an opinion, in which The Chief Justice, Justice Kennedy, and Justice Breyer join.

In this case, we decide whether Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 50, 124 S. Ct. 1354, 158 L. Ed. 2d 177 (2004), precludes an expert witness from testifying in a manner that has long been allowed under the law of evidence. Specifically, does Crawford bar an expert from expressing an opinion based on facts about a case that have been made known to the expert but about which the expert is not competent to testify? We also decide whether Crawford substantially impedes the ability of prosecutors to introduce DNA evidence and thus may effectively relegate the prosecution in some cases to reliance on older, less reliable forms of proof.

In petitioner's bench trial for rape, the prosecution called an expert who testified that a DNA profile produced by an outside laboratory, Cellmark, matched a profile produced by the state police lab using a sample of petitioner's blood. On direct examination, the expert testified that Cellmark was an accredited laboratory and that Cellmark provided the police with a DNA profile. The expert also explained the notations on documents admitted as business records, stating that, according to  [****14] the records, vaginal swabs taken from the victim were sent to and received back from Cellmark. The expert made no other statement that was offered for the  [*57]  purpose of identifying the sample of biological material used in deriving the profile or for the purpose of establishing how Cellmark handled or tested the sample. Nor did the expert vouch for the accuracy of the profile that Cellmark produced. Nevertheless, petitioner contends that the expert's testimony violated the Confrontation Clause as interpreted in Crawford.

Petitioner's main argument is that the expert went astray when she referred to the DNA profile provided by Cellmark as having been produced from semen found on the victim's vaginal swabs. But both the Illinois Appellate Court and the Illinois Supreme Court found that this statement [**2228]  was not admitted for the truth of the matter asserted, and it is settled that the Confrontation Clause does not bar the admission of such statements. See id., at 59-60, n. 9, 124 S. Ct. 1354, 158 L. Ed. 2d 177 (citing Tennessee v. Street, 471 U.S. 409, 105 S. Ct. 2078, 85 L. Ed. 2d 425 (1985)). For more than 200 years, the law of evidence has permitted the sort of testimony that was given by the expert in this case. Under settled evidence law, an expert may express  [****15] an opinion that is based on facts that the expert assumes, but does not know, to be true. It is then up to the  [***99] party who calls the expert to introduce other evidence establishing the facts assumed by the expert. While it was once the practice for an expert who based an opinion on assumed facts to testify in the form of an answer to a hypothetical question, modern practice does not demand this formality and, in appropriate cases, permits an expert to explain the facts on which his or her opinion is based without testifying to the truth of those facts. See Fed. Rule Evid. 703. That is precisely what occurred in this case, and we should not lightly “swee[p] away an accepted rule governing the admission of scientific evidence.” Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305, 330, 129 S. Ct. 2527, 174 L. Ed. 2d 314 (2009) (Kennedy, J., dissenting).

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567 U.S. 50 *; 132 S. Ct. 2221 **; 183 L. Ed. 2d 89 ***; 2012 U.S. LEXIS 4658 ****; 80 U.S.L.W. 4434; 83 A.L.R. Fed. 2d 649; 23 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 355; 2012 WL 2202981

SANDY WILLIAMS, Petitioner v. ILLINOIS

Prior History:  [****1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS.

People v. Williams, 238 Ill. 2d 125, 939 N.E.2d 268, 2010 Ill. LEXIS 971, 345 Ill. Dec. 425 (2010)

Disposition: Affirmed.

CORE TERMS

profile, laboratory, plurality, analyst, testing, vaginal swab, match, cross-examination, lab, forensic, reliable, out-of-court, semen, cases, expert opinion, factfinder, witnesses, primary purpose, male, testimonial statement, testimonial, Street, certificates, confession, hearsay, right to confront, confrontation, accredited, formalized, testifying

Constitutional Law, Fundamental Rights, Criminal Process, Right to Confrontation, Evidence, Exceptions, Residual Exception, Confrontation Clause Requirements, Hearsay, Rule Components, Truth of Matter Asserted, Admissibility, Expert Witnesses, Unavailability, General Overview, Criminal Law & Procedure, Trials, Bench Trials, Presumptions, Particular Presumptions, Regularity, Expert Witnesses, Helpfulness, Procedural Matters, Rulings on Evidence, Jury Instructions, Limiting Instructions, Commencement of Criminal Proceedings, Interrogation, Statements