Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts ruled in a close, 5-4, decision that laboratory reports related to the testing of drugs at a police laboratory are to be considered as testimonial evidence within the meaning of the Sixth Amendment. In effect, this means that a criminal defendant has the right at trial to confront personally the maker of the laboratory report on confrontation clause grounds.
New Jersey has held this to be the case for many years, as in State v. Berezansky (Lab results of a DWI Blood test), State v. Renshaw , (Requiring testimony of person who drew blood sample from intoxicated defendant) and State v. Kent , (Requiring the defendant to put the state on notice that the lab tech will be required to appear to testify in court).
What does this mean? Potentially, quite a bit. If the state's case against a defendant for drunk driving is based on blood drawn at the hospital, or a drug possession case on a lab test of that "brown vegetative substance," that lab report becomes critical. Without it, they lose! Thus the prosecutor has to be sure that the lab technician that conducted the test and wrote the report is subpoenae'd and ready to testify at trial in order for the results of the test to be accepted into evidence.
Remember, just because the police suspect that that white powder is cocaine, doesn't mean that it is and more importantly, cannot be proven to be such without that lab test. Not long ago I was able to plead a drunk driving case down to careless driving because the lab report had come in a day or two before a date certain for trial, and the prosecutor could not produce the nurse that drew and tested my client's blood.
The upshot of all of this is that people charged with drug offenses and drunk driving need to be aware of this right to confront state witnesses, and should consult with an attorney to make sure those rights are protected. Remember, it is the state's burden to prove that you were drunk, high, or in possession of drugs; nothing is presumed based solely on non-expert testimony.
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