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U.S. Supreme Court Decision May Impact Drug, DUI Cases

The United States Supreme Court recently handed down a decision in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts that has sent a jolt through the system of prosecuting drug and alcohol cases. Before this decision, the strongest evidence in drug and drunken driving cases often was a piece of paper. That paper contained a crime lab or Breathalyzer report confirming that the defendant had illegal drugs or a high level of alcohol in his or her system.

The decision in Melendez-Diaz has changed that method of prosecution. In a 5-4 decision, written by Justice Scalia, the Court held that the reports of drugs or alcohol served as “witnesses” for the prosecution. And because the Sixth Amendment gives defendents a right to be confronted with the witnesses against them (the Confrontation Clause), Justice Scalia said that drug defendants and others are “entitled to be confronted with the (lab) analysts at trial.” This means that the prosecution has to make the lab technician that produced the drug or alcohol report available to testify at trial if the defendant demands it. Many lawyers think this ruling will have a substantial impact and one state, Virginia, has already called a special legislative session to change its laws.

“This is a train wreck in the making,” said Scott Burns, executive director of the National District Attorneys Association. “The Court is saying you can’t submit an affidavit saying that the cocaine is cocaine. The criminalist must be there to testify the cocaine is cocaine. Particularly in rural states and in smaller communities, this is going to be a major problem.”

For more information, see the article on the St. Louis Post-Dispatch website at:
http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/nation/story/2EF8EAACE3DF95F686257604000DEDEC?OpenDocument

See the U.S. Supreme Court Decision at:
http://www.supremecourtus.gov/opinions/08pdf/07-591.pdf

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