Until last month, the strongest evidence in drug and drunk driving cases in courtrooms often was a piece of paper. A crime lab or Breathalyzer report would confirm that the defendant indeed had illegal drugs or a high level of alcohol in his or her system. A Supreme Court decision has sent a jolt through that procedure, the Los Angeles Times reports. Now the prosecution must make a lab technician available to testify in person if the defendant demands it. Some cases already have been dismissed. Virginia has called a special legislative session to change its laws. Some lawyers think the ruling will have a major impact.
Scott Burns of the National District Attorneys Association says, “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.” In Virginia, several judges have dismissed drunk driving charges because technicians were not in court to testify about how a Breathalyzer was calibrated. Gov. Tim Kaine has called the legislature into session to pass a bill, similar to laws in dozens of states, that will put defendants and their lawyers on notice before a trial that a lab report will be submitted as evidence. The defense lawyer would have a duty to tell prosecutors whether a lab tech must be there to testify.