Thursday, June 25, 2009

New U.S. Supreme Court Case Impacts DWI & Drug Defense

On June 25, 2009, the United Supreme Court decided a case that should have a major impact on drug, DWI and other cases in which lab results are used at trial. In Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts the US Supreme Court held that if the defense objects to a certificate of analysis, the prosecution must call the lab technician if it seeks to introduce evidence of the laboratory test results. In most DWI and Drug cases in Virginia, the lab operator rarely testifies at trial and in the past, the Virginia Courts have routinely allowed the lab certificates into evidence without a witness.

In the Melendez-Diaz case, the Supreme Court found that the Defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him was violated by admitting into evidence over the objection of the Defendant a notarized laboratory drug test certificate, without the in-court testimony of the analyst conducting the test. The Court stated that such notarized certificates are “testimonial” in nature, and thus, are covered by the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The holding of this new case is expected to have an immediate and important effect on DWI and drug-related cases in the Commonwealth of Virginia. We now anticipate that the Commonwealth will be required to call the lab technician in order to admit laboratory certificates into evidence at trial in order to demonstrate how the laboratory test was conducted. Since that testimony is a departure from the current practice in Virginia, it gives defense lawyers an opportunity to win some cases for their clients.

The use of new, innovative arguments at trial is why anyone charged with a crime should retain an experienced defense law firm, such as Gross & Romanick.