Confronted by one’s accuser? What a novel concept. District Attorneys would rather not have to work so hard.
nationwide, thousands of drug cases might have to be thrown out of court annually.
Legal experts and prosecutors are concerned about the results of last month’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that requires lab analysts to be in court to testify about their tests. Lab sheets that identify a substance as a narcotic or breath-test printouts describing a suspect’s blood-alcohol level are no longer sufficient evidence, the court ruled. A person must be in court to talk about the test results.
The opinion, written by Justice Antonin Scalia, has prosecutors and judges shaking their heads in disgust and defense lawyers nodding with satisfaction at the notion that the Constitution’s Sixth Amendment guarantee that defendants “shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him” is not satisfied by a sheet of paper.
“This is the biggest case for the defense since Miranda,” said Fairfax defense lawyer Paul L. McGlone, referring to the Supreme Court ruling that required police to inform defendants of their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. He said judges “are no longer going to assume certain facts are true without requiring the prosecution to actually put on their evidence.”
[Click to continue reading Supreme Court Ruling Requiring Lab Analyst Testimony Worries Prosecutors – washingtonpost.com]
A large percentage of the drug offenses would be dismissed outright without the leverage of a lab analyst’s report. There aren’t enough lab analysts to appear in court for all the cases that are brought – the Drug War churns more victims in its thresher than the anti-drug bureaucracy can handle.
States and counties across the country handle evidence differently, so the problems caused by the ruling vary widely. But many jurisdictions have a similar issue: Crime labs that test drug and DNA samples face huge backlogs even when scientists and analysts do not have to testify. If the workers are taken out of the labs to appear in court, those backlogs will grow.
In drug cases, more than 1.5 million samples are analyzed by state and local labs each year, resulting in more than 350,000 felony convictions, national statistics show. “Even if only 5 percent of drug cases culminate in trials, the burden on the states is oppressive,” a group of state attorneys general wrote in a brief for the case.
The percentage of cases going to trial could well go up if defense lawyers think that bringing lab analysts to court will help their cases. Lawyers also could go to trial with the hope of a dismissal if the analyst cannot be there.
Perhaps reducing the amount of arrests of simple drug possession would be an answer to this overloading of the court system.