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New Supreme Court Ruling: Laboratory analysts must now appear in court

Laboratory analysts must now appear in court and submit themselves to cross-examination if their reports are admitted into evidence, according to a brand new ruling by the United States Supreme Court.

Last week's 5-4 ruling in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts mandates forensic analysts must appear in court under the Sixth Amendment Confrontation Clause which gives criminal defendants the right to confront witnesses.

Crime lab analysts previously were rarely subpoenaed to testify about their reports.

Justice Scalia questioned the reliability of forensic science as a whole, mentioning a recent National Academy of Science report which raised a number of issues.

Rejecting the Prosecutor's position that forensic reports, as scientific findings, are neutral facts rather than accusatory testimony, he opined:

"Forensic evidence is not uniquely immune from the risk of manipulation. According to a recent study conducted under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences. & Confrontation is designed to weed out not only the fraudulent analyst, but the incompetent one as well. Serious deficiencies have been found in the forensic evidence used in criminal trials."

"Like expert witnesses generally, an analyst's lack of proper training or deficiency in judgment may be disclosed in cross-examination."

Each state is left to establish a procedure for contesting lab reports and calling analysts to court, so it is too soon to tell what the ruling's full consequences are.

This decision means a significant, future financial impact on crime labs by requiring analysts also to appear.  It usually takes twelve to twenty-four months to hire and train a new analyst, even if one's budget supports new hirings.

Even considering that approximately 9 & 1/2 out of 10 cases end in a plea bargain, rights must be protected in that 5% that go to trial!

"The Confrontation Clause may make the prosecution of criminals more burdensome, but that is equally true of the right to trial by jury and the privilege against self-incrimination. The Confrontation Clause--like those other constitutional provisions-- is binding, and we may not disregard it at our convenience."

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DUI Specialist Rick Mueller is the only San Diego DUI lawyer who was the featured Speaker at 7 DUI seminars in San Diego County in the last several years. Rick Mueller is known as the "DMV Guru", and has practiced law since 1983.

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