Unravelling Williams v. Illinois

15 Pages Posted: 17 Mar 2020 Last revised: 7 May 2020

See all articles by Edward K. Cheng

Edward K. Cheng

Vanderbilt Law School

Cara Mannion

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: February 19, 2020


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 last decision on the issue, Williams v. Illinois, sowed widespread confusion among lower courts and commentators, and just this past 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 attempts to dispel 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.

Keywords: confrontation, forensics, Daubert, scientific evidence, reliability, expert evidence

Suggested Citation

Cheng, Edward K. and Mannion, Cara, Unravelling Williams v. Illinois (February 19, 2020). NYU Law Review Online, Vanderbilt Law Research Paper No. 20-24, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3540755 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3540755

Edward K. Cheng (Contact Author)

Vanderbilt Law School ( email )

131 21st Avenue South
Nashville, TN 37203-1181
United States
615-875-7630 (Phone)

Cara Mannion

affiliation not provided to SSRN

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