01/19/2024 - Supreme Sympathy: Arizona Man's Fight for Constitutional Rights in Landmark Court Case

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court showed sympathy towards an Arizona man, Jason Smith, who argues that his constitutional rights were violated during his trial. Smith claims that the prosecution's expert witness, Greggory Longoni, testified about drug analysis conducted by another forensic scientist, Elizabeth Rast, infringing upon the Sixth Amendment's confrontation clause.

Smith, convicted and sentenced to four years, alleged that Longoni lacked personal knowledge of Rast's testing and merely conveyed her statements. Smith's lawyer, Hari Santhanam, argued that the use of Rast's documents violated the confrontation clause. Deputy U.S. Solicitor General Eric Feigin acknowledged potential issues but suggested a middle ground, stating that stating the expert's conclusion might not violate the clause.

Representing Arizona, Alexander Samuels insisted that Longoni formed independent conclusions based on Rast's work. Justices focused on whether Rast's documents were introduced to prove the truth of Longoni's testimony. Justice Clarence Thomas expressed skepticism, questioning the usefulness of Longoni's testimony if Rast's analysis was inaccurate.

Justice Samuel Alito argued that an expert's opinion is worthless without accurate underlying facts. He pressed Samuels on evidence proving the substances found were drugs. Gorsuch and Alito seemed to agree that the testimony aimed to establish Rast's tests and results as true.

Chief Justice John Roberts suggested cross-examining Longoni about the laboratory analysis. The second question concerned whether Rast's documents were testimonial and subject to the confrontation clause. Santhanam argued they were, emphasizing their creation for use in Smith's case. Samuels contended they were not testimonial.

Justice Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh explored different tests for determining testimonial nature, with Kavanaugh favoring a test examining the formality and solemnity of documents. Santhanam resisted, while Samuels argued that Rast's documents were non-testimonial under both proposed tests.

The justices also considered whether the testimonial question was properly presented, with Sotomayor and Kagan questioning the state's position. Kavanaugh suggested it might be challenging to decide the testimonial issue without clarity on its preservation in lower courts.

A decision in this case is expected by summer 2024.