Supreme Judicial Court (July 26, 2011)

The United States Supreme Court's 2009 Melendez-Diaz decision does not apply retroactively to cases on collateral review.

On May 3, 2005 after a two-day jury-waived trial, a judge convicted the defendant of two indictments for trafficking in cocaine and one indictment for possessing heroin with the intent to distribute. At trial, the prosecutor entered the substances and the drug certificates into evidence without objection from defense counsel. On appeal, the Appeals Court affirmed the defendant's convictions and the Supreme Judicial Court denied further appellate review. After the United States Supreme Court announced its 2009 Melendez-Diaz decision, the defendant filed a motion for a new trial. This motion was denied and the defendant appealed.

The defendant argued the Supreme Court's 2009 Melendez-Diaz decision should be applied retroactively. "The question raised in this case is whether the rule announced in Melendez-Diaz applies retroactively to cases on collateral review."

The Court reviewed the federal law on the retroactive application of constitutional decisions as articulated in Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989). Teague distinguishes between the retroactivity of new and old constitutional rules: "[A]n old rule applies both on direct and collateral review, but a new rule is generally applicable only to cases that are still on direct review." Whorton v. Bockting, 549 U.S. 406, 416 (2007).

The Court next decided whether the Melendez-Diaz decision was a new rule or an old rule, derived from Crawford v. Washington. It found that, "to the extent Melendez-Diaz classified this limited category of evidence as triggering the protections of the confrontation clause, it broke new ground and announced a new rule." Therefore, the Melendez-Diaz decision is not applicable to convictions which were final before it was decided.

Summarized and applied to this case, "We conclude that the rule announced in Melendez-Diaz, as it relates to the applicability of the confrontation clause to certificates of chemical analysis (drug certificates), is a 'new' rule within the meaning of Teague v. Lane, 489 U.S. 288 (1989) (Teague), and, as such, is not available to the defendant in this appeal from the denial of his motion for a new trial."

Note: This is the same defendant from the U.S. Supreme Court's Melendez-Diaz decision but involves a subsequent offense in Plymouth County.