Cocaine Bags 
Cocaine — or just stuff that looks like it?

The U.S. Supreme Court didn't decide any business cases today, but two of the appeals it did rule on bear some kinship to matters commercial.

The first involved whether general maritime law allows seamen to get punitive damages.  The Court said yes.  Atl. Sounding Co. v. Townsend, No. 08-214 (U.S. June 25, 2009).  Justice Thomas, who doesn't believe the Constitution limits punitive awards, wrote the opinion for the Court.  Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Kennedy, and Scalia dissented.

The other ruling dealt with a "confrontation" right under the sixth amendment — whether a criminal defendant may cross-examine the preparer or certifier of a lab report.  The test results in question deemed plastic bags that police found on the defendant's person to contain "cocaine".  The Court held an analyst's certification of the report "testimonial".  It distinguished affidavits that merely authenticate business records and the like, noting:

Respondent also misunderstands the relationship between the business-and-official-records hearsay exceptions and the Confrontation Clause.  As we stated in Crawford:  "Most of the hearsay exceptions covered statements that by their nature were not testimonial — for example, business records or statements in furtherance of a conspiracy."  541 U.S., at 56.  Business and public records are generally admissible absent confrontation not because they qualify under an exception to the hearsay rules, but because — having been created for the administration of an entity's affairs and not for the purpose of establishing or proving some fact at trial — they are not testimonial.  Whether or not they qualify as business or official records, the analysts' statements here — prepared specifically for use at petitioner's trial — were testimony against petitioner, and the analysts were subject to confrontation under the Sixth Amendment.

Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, No. 07-591, slip op. at 18 (U.S. June 25, 2009).  Justice Scalia wrote the majority opinion, in which Justices Ginsburg, Souter, Stevens, and Thomas joined.

Feed-icon-14x14 Our feed wonders who dissented.

Bonus:  Blawgletter saw Justice Scalia a Few Short Hours after posting.  We mentioned the money quote — "the best indication that the sky will not fall after today's decision is that it has not done so already" – and he said "five-four, can you believe it?"  Yes.  Yes, we can.