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US v. Joel RivasNo. 13-3526.   A fingerprint examiner (“Rottman”) testified at trial that he was certain the partial fingerprint found on a 9 millimeter handgun belonged to Joel Rivas.  Rivas’s only argument is that his rights under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment were violated when the district court did not allow him to cross-examine the government’s fingerprint expert regarding the misidentification of a suspect in an unrelated case. 

The Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause guarantees a criminal defendant the right to confront the witnesses against him, and it includes the right to cross-examine those witnesses. Pennsylvania v. Ritchie, 480 U.S. 39, 51 (1987). A Sixth Amendment violation occurs when cross-examination limitations prevent the defendant from exposing a witness’s bias or motivation to lie, or when they deny the defendant the “opportunity to elicit testimony that would be `relevant and material to the defense.’” United States v. Vasquez,635 F.3d 889, 895 .

But that does not mean a judge cannot impose any limits on cross-examination. Trial judges retain “wide latitude” to impose reasonable limits on cross-examination based on concern about matters including harassment, prejudice, confusion of the issues, or interrogation that is repetitive or only marginally relevant, all without running afoul of the Confrontation Clause.Delaware v. Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. 673, 679 (1986).

Here, Rivas sought to cross-examine Rottman, the government’s fingerprint analyst, about the misidentification of Brandon Mayfield. Following train bombings in 2004 that killed 191 people in Madrid, Spain, the FBI identified as Mayfield’s the fingerprint on a bag of detonators in a van used by the bombers. 

We agree with the government that there was no Sixth Amendment violation (or abuse of discretion, to the extent Rivas argues it) in this ruling. Rottman was not the person who conducted the analysis in the Mayfield case. Rivas’s counsel was allowed to use, and used repeatedly, conclusions from the National Academy of Sciences regarding the fallibility of fingerprint analysis.

Here, the limitation on cross-examination did not prevent the jury from fully evaluating Rottman’s testimony. “The Confrontation Clause guarantees an opportunity for effective cross-examination, not cross-examination that is effective in whatever way, and to whatever extent, the defense might wish.”Delaware v. Fensterer, 474 U.S. 15, 20 (1985)

The judge’s ruling in this case only limited the defense’s ability to add additional detail about the potential fallibility of the ACE-V method, and the Mayfield case was of at best marginal relevance. 

The judgment of the district court is AFFIRMED.

For more about   Attorney Michael J. Petro visit   or call 312-913-1111