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New Supreme Court Decision May Lead to Additional DUI and Drug Crimes Convictions

In 2004, the United States Supreme Court ruled on a case that stated that crime lab reports could not be used as evidence unless the person conducting the tests was testifying at trial. This would give the accused a chance to question the technician about the techniques used when the samples were being tested.

However, a recent Supreme Court decision may open the door for more of these reports to be used at trial without having officials from the lab present. This may have a major impact for those accused of drug crimes or DUI, as well as those suspected of violent crimes where blood or other DNA evidence is being examined.

The case, Williams v. Illinois, concerned the use an expert testimony in place of actual lab reports. The expert testified that she reviewed the tests, and concluded from her analysis that there was a DNA match. No officials from the lab testified at trial, and the actual lab report was not introduced as evidence.

In a 5-4 decision, the Court announced that since the expert was not being asked to "prove" the lab tests, but instead offer an expert opinion, that this was not a violation of the confrontation clause.

In a dissent, Justice Elena Kagan felt that this particular decision may allow more mistakes to go undetected. She believes that when lab technicians know they are going to have to testify in court, they will review the tests and results to check their accuracy.

This system of review would not be used in situations where outside experts are offering their testimony. They can simply accept the results as accurate and not need to concern themselves with whether any mistakes were made during the process.

For individuals accused of crimes, these reports often are used to determine guilt or innocence. By allowing the prosecution more leeway with how these reports can be used, it may be more difficult to present an aggressive defense to accusations of criminal behavior.

Source: New York Times "No Majority Rationale in Crime Lab Testimony Ruling" Adam Liptak, June 18, 2012.

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