The Supreme Judicial Court today told Luis Melendez-Diaz his precedent-setting case in Boston came too late to help him try to clean his record of another drug conviction on the South Shore.
In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled Melendez-Diaz's right to confront his accusers had been violated in his 2001 conviction in Boston because his lawyer could not cross-examine the lab technician who signed a certificate that the substance found in the car in which he was a passenger was cocaine.
Melendez-Diaz sought to have a 2004 cocaine conviction out of Abington overturned on the same grounds, but the Supreme Judicial Court ruled that because he had already gone through the appeal process in that case, the Supreme Court ruling did not apply and he is not eligible for a new trial.
The Massachusetts Appeals Court rejected Melendez-Diaz's bid for a new trial in 2007; the SJC then declined in 2008 to consider the case. In its ruling today, the SJC writes:
The rule of [the Supreme Court case] is of no use to the defendant unless it is held to be retroactive to convictions already made final at the time it was decided. Federal law on the retroactive application of constitutional decisions is articulated in Teague, supra. In that case, the Supreme Court held that a "new" constitutional rule of criminal law does not ordinarily apply on collateral review to convictions that were final before the new rule was announced.
Melendez-Diaz's lawyers argued that the 2009 ruling was not really "new," because it was based in part on an earlier ruling, but the SJC said the ruling, in fact, changed nearly a century of established practice related to forensic evidence.