In a decision that has major implications for citizens accused of driving under the influence (DUI), the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Melendez-Diaz vs. Massachusetts. Mr. Diaz was accused of possessing drugs, and pursuant to the usual procedures the alleged drug was sent to a crime lab for analysis. Rather than bringing in the person who performed the testing, the prosecution merely produced a declaration of the test results. The US Supreme Court held that this violates the right to confront a witness guaranteed to all citizens under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.

In the context of DUI cases, many jurisdictions allowed the same procedure; that the blood or urine test results could come in merely by way of a sworn affidavit. For years defense attorneys have argued that this violated the accused’s Constitutional right to question a key witness against them. Now it is clear that it does.

The Court stated that many labs are not in fact “neutral”; they are branches of the law enforcement team. As such they “may feel pressure-or have an incentive- to alter the evidence in a manor favorable to the prosecution”. Further, since the labs are products of the police agencies they often “sacrifice appropriate methodology for the sake of expediency”. In other words, sometimes people rush or take shortcuts and sometimes they fudge because they work for the same team.

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