Yannetti | Criminal Defense Law Firm | Boston, Salem & Dedham Massachusetts
Call For A Free Phone Consultation
Photo of the legal professionals at The Yannetti Criminal Defense Law Firm

Former Prosecutors, Aggressively Fighting For You

Photo of the legal professionals at The Yannetti Criminal Defense Law Firm

Confrontation Clause Ruling To Be Applied Prospectively Only

In Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a chemical test report submitted by a state laboratory analyst is testimonial in nature. As a result, in all criminal prosecutions, the Commonwealth must call the analyst who tested the substance to testify in court that the substance in fact is an illegal drug.

The analyst’s presence is necessary to satisfy the requirements of the Confrontation Clause of the Constitution.

Mr. Melendez-Diaz was arrested, prosecuted, and convicted of a separate and unrelated narcotics trafficking case, which occurred around the same time as the incident that he took to the Supreme Court of the United States. Following his victory before the Supreme Court, Melendez-Diaz appealed this unrelated conviction to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (S.J.C.). There, his attorney argued that the legal precedent set by his victory at the Supreme Court should apply to his second, unrelated offense.

His problem, however, was that the second case was “final” by the time the U.S. Supreme Court decided his first case on the grounds that the admission of the drug certificate violated the confrontation clause. All appeals had been exhausted on that second case. Nonetheless, he asked the S.J.C. to apply the U.S. Supreme Court decision retroactively to his second drug conviction.

The S.J.C. determined that because the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on this first case was a “new” rule, Melendez-Diaz could not benefit from the 2009 decision retroactively.


The issue of whether a U.S. Supreme Court ruling applies retroactively to other cases hinges on whether it establishes a new rule or extends an old rule.

If it merely extends or clarifies an existing, older rule, then the extension can be applied retroactively because the framework for the rule was already in existence.

If it is considered to be a “new” rule, on the other hand, it may not be applied retroactively. The rationale is that the rule was not in existence during the course of a prosecution, so a criminal defendant should not receive the benefit of a non-existent rule.

So, is it “New?”

The problem for any court is determining whether a rule from another case is “new.” Melendez-Diaz highlights the dilemma a court faces when addressing this question.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s majority opinion in Melendez-Diaz states that its decision in the case is, “‘little more than the application’ of the new rule [first] announced in Crawford.” If the S.J.C. had strictly followed this language and determined that the Supreme Court did not in fact create a “new” rule, the defendant in Melendez-Diaz would have benefited  retroactively and his second conviction for drug trafficking would be overturned as well.

The S.J.C., however, was tasked with analyzing the issue as it applied to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and noted that “[t]he language used by the [U.S. Supreme] Court . . . is not conclusive in determining whether a rule is new.”

Indeed, the S.J.C. reached a different conclusion. The S.J.C. reasoned that certificates of drug analysis were long permitted as evidence under the public records exception to the hearsay rule and therefore the first Melendez-Diaz ruling dramatically changed the framework of Massachusetts criminal law and the law governing the admissibility of evidence. Viewing the issue in that light, the S.J.C. determined that the Supreme Court ruling was indeed a “new” rule.

Because the S.J.C. found that it is a new rule, Melendez-Diaz will not receive the benefit of retroactive application to his other Massachusetts conviction. His appeal failed.


Client Testimonials

5 Star

In the most painful times in our lives–David, Greg and Lisa showed us their professional best–dignified, warm, gracious. David and his team will not let you down, you will be taken well care of and most importantly superbly and justly represented…
Barbara Lynch

Oh my goodness David is a miracle worker! Unbelievable results! David is so highly respected by attorneys and judges and prosecutors that he really makes an impact in court and presented our friend in the best possible light…

Jude Dasilva

Greg Johnson and David Yannetti are simply the best. After having two other attorneys on a case, I hired them and got results where others failed. They work hard for you and I highly recommend them!…

Vivian Trinh

If it was not for Mr. Yannetti I could have lost my career and opportunity to come back to USA again given that I am not a US citizen. Thank you Mr. Yannetti for all you did for me and my family. You and your office were truly there for me in my darkest hour…

Ajit Gupta

Greg Johnson is a charming attorney and seems to truly care about his client’s and the outcome of their case. If you ever need an experienced criminal defense Lawyer, Yannetti Criminal Defense Law Firm is the one to call!…


“I’ve got your back,” he told me early on. David did not disappoint. By showing up with David in the courtroom, I felt I’d made a clear statement of intent. The case was duly dropped…

James Brooks

Martindale-Hubbell | AV | Preeminent | Peer Rated for Highest Level of Professional Excellence | 2020
Best Lawyers | Best Law Firms | U.S. News | 2022
Avvo | 10.0 | Superb | Top Attorney Criminal Defense
Super Lawyers
Fox News | Criminal Defense Analyst
CNN | Criminal Defense Analyst
ID | Investigation Discovery | Consultant
Massachusetts | Lawyers Weekly | Criminal Defense Expert