Sunday, December 22, 2013

Delaware v. Fensterer case brief

Delaware v. Fensterer case brief summary
474 U.S. 15 (1985)

Petitioner state filed a petition for certiorari to review the judgment of the Delaware Supreme Court, which reversed respondent's conviction for murder on the ground that the admission of the opinion testimony of the state's expert witness denied respondent his Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him.

To establish that a cat leash was the murder weapon, the state sought to prove that two hairs found on the leash were similar to the victim's hair, and that one of those hairs had been forcibly removed. To prove these theories, the state relied on the testimony of an FBI agent who testified that one of the hairs had been forcibly removed. On cross-examination, the agent admitted that he was unable to recall which method he had employed to determine that the hair had forcibly been removed.


  • The court held that the agent's inability to recall the method whereby he arrived at his opinion did not render the admission of that opinion violative of respondent's rights under the Confrontation Clause. 
  • A cross-examiner was permitted to delve into the witness' story to test the witness' perceptions and memory. 
  • But it did not follow that the right to cross-examine was denied by the state whenever the witness' lapse of memory impeded one method of discrediting him. 
  • In this case, respondent's counsel's cross-examination of the agent demonstrated to the jury that the agent could not even recall the theory on which his opinion was based. 
  • The Confrontation Clause required no more than this.

The court granted the petition for certiorari, reversed the judgment of the Delaware Supreme Court, and remanded the case to that court for further proceedings.

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