Right of Confrontation in North Carolina DWI Lab Cases
The Supreme Court recently clarified the constitutional commitment to a defendant’s right of confrontation. The Court ruling came in a case involving laboratory analysis of evidence. The Court says the lab analyst that actually performed the tests on evidence is the person a defendant has the right to confront at trial.
In North Carolina, the ruling has been beneficial in ensuring the constitutional rights of some defendants charged with DWI. The downside is that some defendants have faced longer delays waiting for trial while charges remain looming.
Recently three North Carolina crime lab analysts left within a year’s time. The departures reportedly affected dozens, if not hundreds of North Carolina cases. Prosecutors scrambled to attempt to get evidence retested by crime lab analysts after an analyst departure. All the cases that had lab analysis, including North Carolina DWI cases involving blood samples had to be reassessed.
In Union County, for example, the prosecutor relies on the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation crime lab for testing of evidence. The county reportedly had to dismiss roughly 25 percent of its DWI cases that were based upon blood test evidence due to the unavailability of the lab analyst to vindicate the defendant’s constitutional right to confrontation.
Prosecutors had hoped to continue relying on lab analysts report, or substitute lab analysts to gain convictions in criminal cases. The sheet of paper and a substitute cannot testify accurately in court how evidence was actually handled in a specific case.
The SBI crime lab has been under fire recently about how certain evidence was handled in some cases. A substitute analyst and the report itself cannot reflect the actual way evidence was handled in a specific case.
Source: WSOC TV, “Court Ruling Causing Delays, Dismissals,” 1 Nov 2010