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Evidence

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Form, Substance, and Rule 23: The Applicability of the Federal Rules of Evidence to Class Certification

Madeleine M. Xu

Rule 23 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs the standards for certifying a class action, a type of litigation whose aggregate form is intended to make litigation accessible to large groups of injured plaintiffs and incentivize the vindication of claims that may otherwise go unpursued in the face of high litigation costs. However, while due process requires that a certifying court find that each element of Rule 23 is satisfied through “evidentiary proof,” the federal courts have failed to adopt any kind of consistent evidentiary standard to apply to the record proffered at class certification. This has resulted in the use of class certification as a bargaining chip between plaintiffs’ lawyers and wealthy defendants, rather than as a procedural mechanism that serves to test the propriety of a particular action for class treatment. Ultimately, this dynamic harms the very injured plaintiffs that this mechanism seeks to protect. This Note examines the need for a uniform evidentiary standard and surveys the countervailing interests of absent class members, defendants, class counsel, and the court at this critical juncture in a class action proceeding. It then proposes a novel categorization of the Federal Rules of Evidence as either form- or substance-based, and argues that an evidentiary standard that properly balances the interests of all parties involved in the class action requires a certifying court to apply substance-based evidence rules in determining whether a proposed class satisfies Rule 23. Such a rule, this Note will argue, is essential to ensuring that absent class members are protected, rather than exploited, by the class action mechanism.

Unraveling Williams v. Illinois

Edward K. Cheng, Cara C. Mannion

This Essay addresses one of the key evidentiary problems facing courts today: the treatment of forensic reports under the Confrontation Clause. Forensics are a staple of modern criminal trials, yet what restrictions the Confrontation Clause places on forensic reports is entirely unclear. The Supreme Court’s latest decision on the issue, Williams v. Illinois, sowed widespread confusion among lower courts and commentators, and during the 2018 Term, Justices Gorsuch and Kagan dissented to the denial of certiorari in Stuart v. Alabama, a case that would have revisited (and hopefully clarified) Williams.

Our Essay dispels the confusion in Williams v. Illinois. We argue that Williams involved three difficult and intertwined evidentiary questions: i) when experts may use inadmissible evidence as the basis of their opinions under Rule 703; ii) whether Rule 703 itself is consistent with the Confrontation Clause; and iii) whether reports that arise out of rigorous scientific processes implicate the Confrontation Clause at all. Along the way, we show that the answers to these questions help predict the future of the Confrontation Clause and offer a potential tool for improving forensic science.

The Talking Dead: Should Decedents’ Statements Fall Under Rule 801(d)(2)(A)?

Matthew W. Tieman

There is a circuit split as to whether a decedent’s statements can be entered into evidence under the exclusion from hearsay provided for party-opponent statements under Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(A). The courts disagree as to the best characterization of decedents’ statements—whether they should be understood as privity-based admissions that, while admissible under the common law, are no longer admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence, or if the decedent should be considered a party to the litigation, in which case the statements are admissible under Rule 801(d)(2)(A). This Note first discusses the circuit split by explaining the concept of privity-based admissions, conducting a statutory interpretation of the Federal Rules to determine if the enactment of the rules abrogated the common law admissibility of privity-based admissions, and analyzing whether it is appropriate for a decedent to be considered a party to the litigation. The Note then discusses policy reasons for a rule favoring exclusion—namely, the concerns about perjury and ensuring equitable treatment of the estate that gave rise to states’ Dead Man’s acts, and the fact that there may be other rules under which to admit the evidence. The Note concludes that a rule favoring admissibility is preferable because the claims would not be in front of the court but for the decedent, and a rule favoring admissibility will lead to more consistent outcomes.

The Costs of Waiver: Cost-Benefit Analysis as a New Basis for Selective Waiver of Attorney-Client Privilege

Mathew S. Miller

The nature of corporate criminal liability and the extreme consequences of indictment or conviction place great pressure on corporations to cooperate with federal prosecutors as they investigate corporate wrongdoing. This pressure often leads corporations to disclose privileged corporate communications, including internal investigation reports and notes from employee interviews, to aid prosecutors in their investigation. In most jurisdictions, once these documents are disclosed, the protections of the attorney-client privilege are waived as to everyone—a total waiver. However, in a minority of jurisdictions, when privileged corporate communications are disclosed to the government as part of a criminal investigation, the privilege is waived only as to the government and remains to prevent discovery by third parties, including civil plaintiffs—a selective waiver. Courts have provided various rationales for both positions, although none has been universally endorsed and all are subject to criticism. This Note provides a new justification for the selective waiver rule. It argues that utility-maximizing prosecutors will be more likely to ask for these critical privileged corporate communications under a selective waiver rule because of the high costs of the total waiver rule. This, in turn, will lead to a more efficient and robust investigation and prosecution of corporate crime.

Brady Materiality Before Trial: The Scope of the Duty to Disclose and the Right to a Trial by Jury

Christopher Deal

Brady v. Maryland requires prosecutors to disclose to criminal defendants all material, favorable evidence in the government’s possession. Evidence is material if its disclosure would have created a reasonable probability of a different verdict. Though materiality may correctly guide appellate courts in deciding when to reverse convictions, the author contends that it is both impractical and unconstitutional to ask prosecutors to use materiality as the measure of their disclosure obligations before trial. It is impractical because it requires prosecutors convinced of the defendant’s guilt to decide what combination of evidence, if disclosed, would create a reasonable probability of an acquittal at the end of a trial that has yet to begin. It is unconstitutional so long as due process means something other than that which produces the right outcome. This Note suggests that prosecutors should employ a balancing test based on the interaction of Brady disclosure rules and the defendant’s right to a trial by jury to determine when favorable evidence must be disclosed. This balancing test provides prosecutors with a disclosure standard that is simple, constitutional, and compatible with courts’ continued use of the materiality standard after trial.

The First Amendment as Criminal Procedure

Daniel J. Solove

This Article explores the relationship between the First Amendment and criminal procedure. These two domains of constitutional law have long existed as separate worlds, rarely interacting with each other despite the fact that many instances of government information gathering can implicate First Amendment freedoms of speech, association, and religion. The Fourth and Fifth Amendments used to provide considerable protection for First Amendment interests, as in the famous 1886 case Boyd v. United States, in which the Supreme Court held that the government was prohibited from seizing a person’s private papers. Over time, however, Fourth and Fifth Amendment protection has shifted, and countless searches and seizures involving people’s private papers, the books they read, the websites they surf, and the pen names they use when writing anonymously now fall completely outside the protection of constitutional criminal procedure. Professor Solove argues that the First Amendment should protect against government information gathering that implicates First Amendment interests. He contends that there are doctrinal, historical, and normative justifications for developing what he calls “First Amendment criminal procedure.” Solove sets forth an approach for determining when certain instances of government information gathering fall within the regulatory domain of the First Amendment and what level of protection the First Amendment should provide.

Overcoming Daubert’s Shortcomings in Criminal Trials: Making the Error Rate the Primary Factor in Daubert’s Validity Inquiry

Munia Jabbar

Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. and its progeny provide the federal standard for the admissibility of all expert evidence, including forensic evidence, that is proffered in criminal trials. The standard measures the validity of expert evidence through a flexible four-factor inquiry. Unfortunately, in the criminal context, Daubert fails to promote the goals of trial outcome accuracy and consistency, resulting in tragically unfair outcomes for criminal defendants. This Note proposes a doctrinal tweak that shifts the costs of admitting forensic evidence to the prosecution and promotes criminal justice goals. First, there should be a high presumption against the admission of forensic evidence that must be rebutted with a clear and convincing showing of its validity. Second, the Daubert validity inquiry needs to be reformulated so that the forensic methodology’s “error rate” factor is the primary (and if possible, only) factor the court considers. Third, the error rate should be defined as the lab-specific error rate. The Note ends by considering further possible ways to specify the definition of “error rate” to better promote criminal justice goals.

What Remains of the “Forfeited” Right to Confrontation? Restoring Sixth Amendment Values to the Forfeiture-by-Wrongdoing Rule in Light of Crawford v. Washington and Giles v. California

Rebecca Sims Talbott

Under the forfeiture-by-wrongdoing rule, a criminal defendant loses his Sixth Amendment right to confront a government witness when he intentionally prevents that witness from testifying at trial. As the rule currently operates, any and all prior statements by the missing witness can be admitted as substantive evidence against the defendant, regardless of whether they have been subjected to any of the procedural elements of confrontation. In this Note, I argue against such a “complete forfeiture” rule and propose a more “limited” rule in its stead. I argue, contrary to most courts and scholars, that forfeiture-by-wrongdoing cannot be justified by its punitive rhetoric, rendering its sweeping “complete forfeiture” result vulnerable to criticisms based on the primary lessons of Crawford v. Washington.

Safety in Numbers? Deciding when DNA Alone is Enough to Convict

Andrea Roth

Fueled by police reliance on offender databases and advances in crime scene recovery, a new type of prosecution has emerged in which the government’s case turns on a match statistic explaining the significance of a “cold hit” between the defendant’s DNA profile and the crime-scene evidence. Such cases are unique in that the strength of the match depends on evidence that is almost entirely quantifiable. Despite the growing number of these cases, the critical jurisprudential questions they raise about the proper role of probabilistic evidence, and courts’ routine misapprehension of match statistics, no framework—including a workable standard of proof—currently exists for determining sufficiency of the evidence in such a case. This Article is the first to interrogate the relationship between “reasonable doubt” and statistical certainty in the context of cold hit DNA matches. Examining the concepts of “actual belief” and “moral certainty” underlying the “reasonable doubt” test, I argue that astronomically high source probabilities, while fallible, are capable of meeting the standard for conviction. Nevertheless, the starkly numerical nature of “pure cold hit” evidence raises unique issues that require courts to apply a quantified threshold for sufficiency purposes. I suggest as a starting point—citing recent juror studies and the need for uniformity and systemic legitimacy—that the threshold should be no less favorable to the defendant than a 99.9% source probability.

Evaluating Eyewitness Identification in the 21st Century

The Honorable Stuart Rabner

In the Eighteenth Annual Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. Lecture on State Courts and Social Justice, Stuart Rabner, Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, discusses the court’s recent decision in State v. Henderson. In Henderson, the court revised the longstanding legal framework for testing the reliability of eyewitness identifications. Justice Rabner discusses the case law underlying the traditional framework, the social science that prompted the court’s decision, and the revised framework now in place. He concludes by emphasizing the importance of eyewitness identification in our criminal justice system and calling for continued judicial attention to accepted scientific evidence on eyewitness reliability.