Supremes revisit ruling requiring testimony from police lab techs

Virginia Hernandez Lopez admitted to knocking back two shots of tequila with Sprite chasers on an August night in Julian, Calif., a couple of years ago. But she said she was not drunk when her Ford Explorer collided with an oncoming Toyota pickup truck later that night, killing its driver.

In May, a California state appeals court affirmed Ms. Lopez’s conviction for vehicular manslaughter. Her blood-alcohol level two hours after the accident was, according to a report presented to the jury, just over the legal limit of .08 percent.

But the appeals court reconsidered the case after a decision in June from the United States Supreme Court that prohibited prosecutors from introducing crime lab reports without testimony from the analysts who prepared them.

The appeals court reversed Ms. Lopez’s conviction, saying prosecutors had violated her constitutional right to confront witnesses against her by failing to put the analyst who prepared the blood-alcohol report on the stand.

But now, in an unusual move, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on Jan. 11 in a new case that raises questions about how lower courts may carry out its six-month-old precedent. Many state attorneys general and prosecutors are hoping the court will overrule its decision in the earlier case, Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, before it can take root, saying it is a costly, disruptive and dangerous misstep.

“Already data and anecdotal evidence are demonstrating an overwhelming negative impact,” a friend-of-the-court brief submitted by 26 attorneys general last month said. The decision, they said, “is already proving unworkable.”

RTFA. Prosecutors and defense lawyers have the world of differences on the question – as you might presume.

The article doesn’t mention what Ms. Lopez had to say about the constitutional rights of Allan Wolowsky, the driver she killed.

10 thoughts on “Supremes revisit ruling requiring testimony from police lab techs

  1. gordeecampbell says:

    It is an excuse. Any accused person possesses the fundamental right to face his/her accusers. The lab tech’s findings are part of the presentation of evidence. Therefore lab tecs do find evidence and do accuse the suspect in a court of law. That evidence should be challenged by any defendant.

    After Sept 11th law enforcement of free democracies around the world thought this event entitled them to break legal protections under the guise of protecting society from terrorism. It is a thin disguise.

    However, to expedite court proceedings and protect the right of accused, I do believe that judges and courts should avail themselves of modern technology. It would be acceptable to have the testimony of technical people conducted through electronic teleconferencing technologies, and available for examination and cross-examination.

  2. Cinaedh says:

    By all means, raise budgets and therefore taxes (by a significant amount) to hire tens of thousands more analysts to supplement the thousands and thousands of them, right across the country, who’ll spend endless wasted hours, each and every court day, sitting around, waiting for their turn to testify.

    Hey! At least it’ll put a big dent in the unemployment problem and you already pay cops to do exactly the same thing.

    Constitutional rights can be a two edged sword, I guess.

    We demand to spend any amount of time and money on our own personal cases, to make sure we have every possible chance to avoid the justice we so richly deserve but there’s no way we’ll ever agree to pay higher taxes – for the exact same reason.

    • Mr. Fusion says:

      If we need to raise taxes then so be it.

      When someone is charged with a crime the whole weight of the state is pressed against him. The state has the pockets of all the people, the accused only has his own pocket.

      It is a right under the English Common Law to be confronted by the evidence against you. Maybe you forgot, but during O. J. Simpson’s murder trial, the Laboratory could not explain where all the sample blood went and why blood on a sock contained a preservative. If the the tech report only said the blood came from person xyz then he would have never been able to challenge the discrepancy.

      • Cinaedh says:

        Well, you’re probably right. After all, OJ did get railroaded by the legal system for cutting the heads off his wife and an innocent bystander.

        We wouldn’t want to see anything like THAT happen again, would we?

        I suppose it’s better to spend the trillions of dollars. You can just borrow them off the Communist Chinese government.

        I mean, what could they possibly want, once they own the entire country and every one and every thing in it?

        • Mr. Fusion says:

          IF Simpson did kill his wife and Goldman, the Laboratory blew it for the prosecution. A juror later said it was that evidence that convinced him Simpson was being railroaded.

          I bring this up only as a point that Laboratory evidence is not always to be trusted. I don’t want to see guilty people freed, but even more so I don’t want to see innocent people jailed.

          If the testing lab is correct 99% of the time and Ontario has 100,000 prosecutions a year, then there may be 1,000 people incarcerated in Ontario unjustly. One of those 1,000 could be you next month.

          • Cinaedh says:

            If you think any evidence whatsoever played any part whatsoever in that nonsensical exoneration, you accomplished the near-impossible by not paying sufficient attention to what was occurring in that courtroom from Hell.

            Good point. Bad example.

          • Mr. Fusion says:

            I disagree. The message the juror sent was that because some of the evidence was proven to be fabricated, some was fraudulent, and some was contaminated, the rest of the evidence was now thrown into question.

            So,

            Simpson had the money to expose fraudulent evidence, and / or

            He was framed and the evidence was disproved, and / or

            By trying to use fraudulent evidence against a guilty man, the prosecution blew it totally.

            No matter how you view it, society lost.

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