The New York Times has an article about last year’s Supreme Court ruling that gave defendants the right to cross examine the lab technicians who analyze forensic evidence and how prosecutors and the government just hate having to actually make an effort to comply with that ruling. They’re hoping a new case this term will result in the court dramatically narrowing the scope of that ruling to make the job of convicting people much easier for them.
“Already data and anecdotal evidence are demonstrating an overwhelming negative impact,” a friend-of-the-court brief submitted by 26 attorneys general last month said. The decision, they said, “is already proving unworkable.”
Let me translate that for you: “It would be so much easier if we could just dispense with hoary old ideas like due process and the right to a fair trial. Our jobs would really be much more pleasant if you would make it easier for us to convict people based on evidence that may well be inaccurate and unreliable. Thanks.”
We have untold numbers of people who have been convicted of drunk driving using breathalyzers that show off false positives due to dozens of commonly used items, including cough drops and gum. We have crime labs all over the country, most recently in Detroit, New York and Colorado, that have been found to have incredibly high error rates, resulting in wrongful convictions of innocent people.
In one of those cases, in New York, there was a single lab tech who had faked his results for fifteen years in hundreds and hundreds of cases. We certainly can’t rely on prosecutors to find out such things; they claim even after that tech was exposed that his 15 years of fraudulent tests didn’t actually affect any trials — and if you believe that, you’re living in fantasy land.
Requiring that tech to take the witness stand and defend his test results might well have exposed him as a fraud in the first year rather than the 15th year. It might well have kept many innocent people out of prison. But that’s okay because it’s really hard to give defendants due process and actually care about distinguishing the guilty from the innocent.
To those whining prosecutors I say: Maybe you should find a new line of work.