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Medina v. Arizona (U.S. Sup. Ct.)

At issue in Medina v. Arizona was whether an autopsy report created as part of a homicide investigation is considered “testimonial” under the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause, which guarantees a criminal defendant the right “to be confronted with the witnesses against him.”

After Efren Medina was found guilty of first-degree murder, the State of Arizona argued that he should be sentenced to death, relying on an autopsy report prepared by Dr. Ann Bucholtz, a county medical examiner, to support its theory that Mr. Medina had inflicted “gratuitous violence” on his victim by running him over at least twice.  Mr. Medina vigorously disputed this contention, which ran contrary to the recollection of the lone eyewitness.  During the trial, rather than call Dr. Bucholtz to testify regarding her report, the State had called the Chief Medical Examiner, who had far more experience testifying in court but who had not been involved in preparing the autopsy report.  The Supreme Court of Arizona denied Mr. Medina’s appeal of his sentence, holding that because the autopsy report was not “testimonial,” Mr. Medina’s rights under the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause were not violated when he was denied the opportunity to cross-examine the author of the report.  On December 17, 2013, Mr. Medina filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, asking the Supreme Court to review the case.

On January 21, 2014, CAC filed an amicus curiae brief urging the Supreme Court to grant certiorari in the case, and to resolve the split among state high courts by holding that autopsy reports created as part of homicide investigations are considered testimonial.  As our brief demonstrates, the text and history of the Confrontation Clause and the Court’s precedents compel such a result. The original meaning of the Confrontation Clause reflects the English common law’s concern with out-of court testimonial evidence being used against a defendant without an opportunity for cross-examination, as well as colonial-era  precursors to the Bill of Rights, many of which contained a guaranteed right of confrontation.

Following the original meaning of the Confrontation Clause, Supreme Court precedent strongly favors a ruling that declares autopsy reports created during homicide investigations to be “testimonial.”  In Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, for instance, the Court held that forensic reports constitute testimonial statements, and in Bullcoming v. New Mexico, the Court held that when testimonial statements such as forensic reports are offered into evidence, the Constitution requires that the defendant have the opportunity to cross-examine the analyst who was actually involved in preparing the report.

On February 24, 2014, the Court declined to grant review of Medina’s Petition.