In a recent decision handed down from a California Court of Appeals, the Court affirmed a criminal defendant’s Constitutional right to confront an expert witness who has prepared a report relied upon by another prosecution witness. In People v. Dungo, the DA tried at a jury trial to swap a bad witness with a better one. The defendant had admitted choking his girlfriend to death, but claimed he did so only after he was provoked to the point of losing control, and thus, was guilty of at most voluntary manslaughter. Dr. Bolduc, a pathologist, conducted an autopsy on the victim’s body and prepared a report of his findings. Dr. Bolduc, however, never testified at the defendant’s trial. He was the bad witness. Instead the prosecution called Bolduc’s supervisor, Dr. Lawrence, as the good witness. Dr. Lawrence was called to testify about the duration of the choking-which was discovered during the autopsy and bore on the defendant’s culpability-even though Dr. Lawrence was not present during the autopsy. The prosecution chose to use Dr. Lawrence in place Dr. Bolduc because Dr. Bolduc had a disreputable employment record that would undermine his credibility as a witness. The jury found defendant guilty of second degree murder, not manslaughter. However, under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution every criminal defendant has the right to be confronted by, or cross-examine, witnesses against them. In this case, the Court on appeal held that the defendant was not properly afforded this right because he was not provided a chance to cross-examine the person who actually prepared a report which was the basis of another witness’s testimony. The decision of the Court of Appeals not only comports with longstanding precedent, but also highlights an important policy issue-the state’s employment of credible experts, or in this case lack thereof. If the State of California wishes the finding of its experts to be used against criminal defendants, in proceedings which can potentially deprive a person of his or her liberty, than the state should hire only the most credible experts to examine evidence. This should include not only the hiring and retention of experts who are paid by the government, but also, the employees of private companies with which the government contracts to do such “expert” work. If the state for whatever reason relies on experts who are less than competent or less than credible to examine evidence and make findings that can be used in criminal proceedings, than any issues of these experts’ credibility should be known to whoever is deciding the fate of a criminal defendant. In other words, the prosecution is prevented in these situations from swapping a bad witness with a good witness.
About Domenic Lombardo
Domenic J. Lombardo, Attorney at Law and a member of California Attorneys for Criminal Justice (CACJ), graduated from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), earning a B.A. in Economics-Business, before graduating with his J.D. from University of California, Hastings School of Law. Mr. Lombardo has been practicing as a criminal defense lawyer in San Diego for nearly 30 years, having started at the San Diego Office of the Public Defender in 1991 and then opened the Law Office of Domenic J. Lombardo in early 1996 as a sole practitioner. His practice is dedicated entirely to the defense of individuals accused of crimes and university misconduct, including Title IX allegations. While Mr. Lombardo works as the primary attorney for all his cases, he does have a team of investigators, forensic consultants, and paralegals to call on to help achieve the best possible result in every case. When he is not working, Mr. Lombardo is a family man, triathlete, and world traveler.