Confronting Williams: The Confrontation Clause and Forensic Witnesses in the Post-Williams Era

Taryn Jones

Volume 67, Issue 4, 1087-118

In Williams v. Illinois, the division of the U.S. Supreme Court created substantial confusion as to the proper application of the Confrontation Clause to forensic witnesses. In the decision, the Court affirmed the conviction of the defendant, Sandy Williams, because the plurality and Justice Thomas, in his concurrence, determined that the DNA profile produced by an outside laboratory was not testimonial and thus Williams did not have a constitutional right to crossexamine the laboratory analysts. The plurality and the concurrence, however, presented two distinct rationales for deeming the report nontestimonial. The case has consequently left lower courts without firm guidance as to when forensic reports are testimonial.

This Note critically examines two state responses to the testimonial nature of autopsy reports following the confusion created by the Williams decision, and whether testimony of surrogate witnesses on these reports under the current legal interpretation violates the Confrontation Clause.

I will argue that this confusion creates a demand for judicial restraint. Courts should err on the side of excluding evidence in order to preserve the Sixth Amendment confrontation right.

Full Article