The argument for and requiring a forensic scientist to appear for a criminal trial has been fought by prosecutors for years. If the scientist is not available, prosecutors argue that someone else from the laboratory — a supervisor perhaps — should be allowed to “read in” results.
I have personally been asked by prosecutors to “read in results” of a co-worker of mine who was away on vacation. The defense fought the practice, but ultimately it was up to the judge to allow it or not.
In cases where one scientist is allowed to read in results, it’s impossible for the defense to challenge the forensic scientist by cross-examination. The person reading in the results can honestly say “I don’t know” to every question specific to the analysis performed on the evidence in question. The jury understands the person reading in the report doesn’t know, because they weren’t the ones performing the tests. So it’s a real “winning” situation for the prosecution — there is no way for the defense to challenge if the testing was done correctly, because there is no one there who knows how the testing was done in the first place.
Originally posted here.
By MARK SHERMAN – 1 day ago
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court appeared inclined Monday to rule that crime lab reports used in drug and other cases may not be introduced at trial without allowing defendants to cross-examine the forensic analysts who prepare them.
The outcome of a case from Massachusetts involving a conviction for cocaine use turns on whether the defendants’ constitutional right to confront witnesses against them extends to lab reports.
Prosecutors use the reports in thousands of cases each year dealing with illegal drugs, fingerprints, blood alcohol tests and genetic evidence. Most often, jurors are given the official reports, with no accompanying testimony.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley cautioned that if her state had to routinely make available lab analysts “district court misdemeanor drug prosecutions would essentially grind to a halt.”
Thirty-five states made a similar point in court papers, noting that crime labs analyzed 1.9 million substances in 2006 following drug arrests.
But the justices seemed unfazed by the prospect of gridlock. Roughly 20 states, including California, now give defendants some right to cross-examine lab employees about forensic evidence.
“I do wish you would comment on the argument that the state of California, a huge state with many, many drug prosecutions, seems to get along all right,” Justice Anthony Kennedy said to Coakley. She was unable to comment on California’s experience.
Jeffrey Fisher, representing defendant Luis Melendez-Diaz, said there are not many cases in which defendants want to make an issue of lab reports, mainly because there often is no dispute that the evidence seized is illegal drugs.
“There is every reason to believe it’s not going to cause any problem, because defendants aren’t going to want to challenge them very often,” Fisher said.
The reports are prepared by labs that have come under rising scrutiny in recent years over reports that analyses were poorly done, tests were not performed at all and, in some instances, results were manipulated to hurt defendants’ cases.
“Aren’t there some things I read in the paper all the time about these laboratories in various places, and they lost the results, they got it all wrong?” Justice Stephen Breyer said.
In the case under consideration, Luis Melendez-Diaz was convicted of trafficking in cocaine partly on the basis of a crime lab analysis that confirmed cocaine was in plastic bags found in the car in which he was riding.
Rather than accept the report, however, Melendez-Diaz objected that he should be allowed to question the person who prepared it about testing methods, how the evidence was preserved and other issues. Massachusetts courts rejected his arguments.
The case is Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 07–591.
No related posts.