10/04/2023 - The Suprememe Court To Hear Appeal Concerning a 'Substituded Expert Witness'

WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the appeal of an Arizona man who asserts that his right to confront his accuser was violated when the expert witness who examined the drugs in his case was substituted by another expert.

Jason Smith was found guilty, partly based on the testimony of Greggory Longoni, who provided evidence using reports initially prepared by Elizabeth Rast, the forensic scientist from the Arizona Department of Public Safety who tested the drugs in Smith's case. Rast had left the department before Smith's trial began.

Smith raised objections to Longoni's testimony, but Arizona courts allowed it. However, courts in various parts of the country have interpreted Supreme Court rulings on this issue differently, leading Smith's legal team to argue that the high court needs to clarify the matter.

Hari Santhanam, representing Smith, pointed out that the confrontation clause in the Sixth Amendment has long been a challenging legal area for the Supreme Court. He emphasized that the confusion arises from the lack of a consistent principle for lower courts to follow when there is a split among Supreme Court rulings. Santhanam hopes that the Supreme Court's decision in Smith's case will help resolve this ongoing uncertainty.

The Supreme Court announced on Friday that it will hear Smith's case.

David Euchner from Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, an organization for defense attorneys, expressed hope that the Supreme Court's decision would provide a definitive opinion on the law, particularly concerning the confrontation question, which has been a source of difficulty for Arizona and other states.

The case stems from an incident in December 2019 when officers executed a search warrant at Smith's father's property and discovered drugs. Smith claimed he was not involved in drug activities but was caring for his ailing father, who passed away before the trial.

Smith faced multiple felony charges, including drug possession and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was convicted in October 2021 and sentenced to four years in prison.

The Arizona Court of Appeals upheld his conviction in July 2022, asserting that Longoni was offering his own opinion on Rast's reports and was not simply relaying her opinion. The appellate court noted that Smith had the opportunity to cross-examine Longoni and could have called Rast to testify if he wished.

While the Supreme Court has not set a date for Smith's case, both Santhanam and Euchner look forward to a ruling on the confrontation question, as it has been a source of uncertainty for numerous states and does not follow traditional political lines in the Supreme Court's decisions.