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Supreme Court dismisses challenge to ruling on forensic experts

The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a pending challenge to a ruling last year requiring lab technicians and other forensic specialists to be available to testify at trials.

In last year’s 5-4 decision, the justices said the experts who prepare lab reports are “witnesses” for the prosecution and therefore must be prepared to be cross-examined by the lawyer for the accused.

Justice Antonin Scalia said the Constitution gave defendants a right to be “confronted” with all the witnesses against them, including lab technicians. Prior to the ruling, prosecutors in many states simply introduced a lab report as evidence -- saying, for example, that the white powder found with the defendant was cocaine.

The four dissenters said the decision would be an expensive headache for prosecutors nationwide. Earlier this month, the justices heard arguments in a Virginia case where prosecutors urged the high court to reverse its ruling.

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The retirement of Justice David H. Souter, who had joined the 5-4 majority, and his replacement by Justice Sonia Sotomayor led to speculation that the court might take the usual step of reversing a recent ruling.

But Monday, the court issued a one-line order that sends the Virginia case back to a state court for another hearing.

The action leaves intact the ruling that gives defendants the right to demand live testimony from experts who prepare reports for the prosecution.

david.savage@latimes.com

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