A D.C. Superior Court judge who punished a defendant for exercising his constitutional right to cross-examine government witnesses was summarily reversed by the D.C. Court of Appeals.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to confront and cross-examine government witnesses. Known as the “Confrontation Clause,” the Supreme Court held in a in 2009 case, Melendez-Diaz, that the Confrontation Clause applied to the lab report of the government chemist who analyzed seized drugs, including marijuana.
Put simply, anyone accused of a crime has the constitutional right to demand that the government prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and to cross-examine all government witnesses. Even if it means that the government has to actually produce the chemist who analyzed the drugs.
Bobby Thorne, a defendant in DC Superior Court did just that. He insisted that the government bring to court the DEA chemist who performed the drug analysis in his case.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Jennifer Anderson – former federal prosecutor – warned Thorne that she would “take into account” at sentencing his decision to cross-examine government witnesses.
Judge Anderson told Thorne that invoking his Sixth Amendment rights would “have consequences.” And it did. Anderson found Thorne guilty and sentenced him to the maximum – much longer than even the government had asked for.
Thorne appealed, and Judge Anderson was summarily reversed by the D.C. Court of Appeals. In a May 22, 2012 Order, the Court of Appeals held that “penalizing those who chose to exercise their constitutional rights is patently unconstitutional.” In an unusual move, the Court ordered that Thorne’s case be reassigned to a different judge for re-sentencing.
Kudos to Cassandra Snyder, a law student at Georgetown University’s Center Legal Clinic, who ably represented Thorne at trial and took an emergency appeal when she believed that the trial judge was violating her client’s rights.