In serious drug prosecutions, criminal defense lawyers cannot blindly trust police crime lab reports supposedly confirming that a substance is really cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana, or heroin. For that matter, anything coming out of the crime lab, such as blood toxicology results, DNA results and chain-of custody receipts should not be blindly trusted, either. The United States Supreme Court , in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, recently confirmed that crime lab reports are so important that the analyst that prepared the report and did the testing must be called as a witness and subjected to cross examination by the defense attorney for the results to be used as evidence. The Court held that the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment of Constitution guarantees this right to defendants seeking to challenge crime lab results. The Court was concerned with the possibility that the report could have been faked or the test may not have been completed properly, and cross examination is the best vehicle for proving problems with the report.
Indeed, here in San Diego, I have recently come into possession of material indicating that a lab analyst who formerly produced reports that were regularly relied upon by San Diego prosecutors, committed perjury while working at another job by faking lab reports and results of confirmatory lab tests. (In crime labs, the presumptive test alone is not valid to conclude the actual presence of the controlled substance; a more reliable, confirmatory test is needed). The information showed that 1000′s of tests were faked. These false lab reports of drug results are clearly relevant to proving that his work product – in fact anything he touched – cannot be trusted. In many drug cases, the alleged controlled substance may be available for retesting or the defense may conduct their own tests. The defense lawyer should also consider a complete review of the chain-of-custody for each and every lab item sought to be used by the prosecutor.
The lesson a bad lab analyst imparts only reinforces what every good defense lawyers knows: don’t assume that any piece of evidence is infallible.
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