Ornery.org
  Front Page   |   About Ornery.org   |   World Watch   |   Guest Essays   |   Contact Us

The Ornery American Forum Post New Topic  Post A Reply
my profile login | register | search | faq | forum home

  next oldest topic   next newest topic
» The Ornery American Forum » General Comments » SC rules lab techs must testify, not just submit reports

 - UBBFriend: Email this page to someone!    
Author Topic: SC rules lab techs must testify, not just submit reports
Mormegil
Member
Member # 2439

 - posted      Profile for Mormegil         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
news story

Basically if you are, say, arrested for drug possession, it matters if you really have a bag of cocaine or a bag of powdered sugar. Up to now, if the lab report says it's cocaine, then it's cocaine, and that's it.

Now, under the Constitutional right to confront your accuser, the defense can call the lab tech that claims it is cocaine, and cross-examine him, ask about how he knows that's true, etc.

To me, this seems pretty fair, actually. I don't really like the idea that "the lab" says something so it must be true. Labs make mistakes, paperwork gets misplaced, samples mislabeled. It's possible, anyway.

Naturally prosecutors are upset because it means much more work for them, more backlog at the already overworked labs, and basically they say more criminals will go free due to technicalities.

Personally I *hate* drugs, but I think the ruling makes sense, and we should just come up with a way to keep it from being abused, i.e. the defense calling the lab tech at the last minute when he's not available, to get the evidence thrown out.

I don't know though. I don't want to see guilty people go free. But I don't like to see people convicted on the basis of a report they have no ability to question either.

Does anyone have an opinion here that isn't too knee-jerk?

It's not just drugs of course, it would be DNA testing, fiber testing, whatever.

Posts: 800 | Registered: May 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
RickyB
Member
Member # 1464

 - posted      Profile for RickyB   Email RickyB   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Huh. I though they already do. They always do on Law and Order... [Smile]

"Personally I *hate* drugs,"

Then don't use them.

Posts: 19145 | Registered: Jan 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
philnotfil
Member
Member # 1881

 - posted      Profile for philnotfil     Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
What is the different between the lab tech reading the report to the judge, and the prosecutor reading the lab report to the judge?
Posts: 3719 | Registered: Jul 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Mormegil
Member
Member # 2439

 - posted      Profile for Mormegil         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
"Personally I *hate* drugs,"

Then don't use them.

Wow. That... that was actually amazingly pathetic.

Anyway...

quote:
What is the different between the lab tech reading the report to the judge, and the prosecutor reading the lab report to the judge?
The ability of the defense to question the lab tech.

I mean, if the lab tech did make a mistake, and the defendant is innocent, and cross examination might actually trip up the lab tech and cast *reasonable* doubt on the accuracy of the report, that would be very good for innocent defendants, wouldn't it?

Posts: 800 | Registered: May 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
0Megabyte
Member
Member # 1217

 - posted      Profile for 0Megabyte   Email 0Megabyte       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
When I was a juror last year, they had the drug tech come up, and they asked him reasonable questions, and he actually told some interesting scienc-y techno babble (I grew up on Star Trek; I have an affinity) and basically made it pretty clear.

But then, though my experience was that it was helpful, and interesting, that might not mean that my case was the norm. It could have been an exception! I was only a juror once, after all.

Posts: 2668 | Registered: Sep 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
scifibum
Member
Member # 945

 - posted      Profile for scifibum   Email scifibum   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I'm torn. Seems like a good idea to uncover bias or mistakes if the possibility exists. However, in theory you can accomplish the same thing by having another lab test the same substance...if you trust the chain of evidence custody etc. There are various points where you just have to trust people to do their jobs honestly (I mean the cop could have planted the stuff in the first place, right?).

Seems like a lot of overhead and an opportunity for the Johnnie Cochrans to instill mistaken doubt. But if the lab might get it wrong...

I don't know.

Posts: 6847 | Registered: Mar 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
hobsen
Member
Member # 2923

 - posted      Profile for hobsen   Email hobsen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
The chief objection is the burden it puts on the lab tech to show up in court. He shows up, a juror turns out to be sick, he cannot testify. Wth most labs swamped anyway, this is a big problem. But I agree - at one point the FBI was faking lab results to help prosecutors. If those lab techs had had to testify under oath, they could well have been scared of going to prison.
Posts: 4387 | Registered: Jul 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
msquared
Member
Member # 113

 - posted      Profile for msquared   Email msquared   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I think this would also lead to the use of more local labs. No more sending your testing out to the low bidder across the country.

msquared

Posts: 4002 | Registered: Nov 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Ron Lambert
Member
Member # 682

 - posted      Profile for Ron Lambert   Email Ron Lambert   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I suspect that the larger impact of this will be to give defense lawyers additional targets. They may pose "chain-of-evidence" type questions, like how they can really be sure what they tested was really what the police took from the defendent, etc. They do this all the time trying to challenge lab tests that are used to prove culpability in rape cases. A friend of mine who spent some time as a doctor near a military base (where there seem to be a lot of rape cases) was very familiar with the need for the physician to follow the sample all the way through testing, so the defense attorneys could not shoot it down.

[ July 15, 2009, 09:39 PM: Message edited by: Ron Lambert ]

Posts: 2645 | Registered: Apr 2002  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
TommySama
Member
Member # 2780

 - posted      Profile for TommySama   Email TommySama       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Just shows the incompatibility of the promises our legal system supposedly guarantees us and the ridiculousness of the war on drugs. I'd rather see plenty of people guilty of holding some drugs go free than a few people go to prison because of a bad test/crooked cop/etc.
Posts: 6396 | Registered: Feb 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
scifibum
Member
Member # 945

 - posted      Profile for scifibum   Email scifibum   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I think drugs were just one example. Lab testing is used in all kinds of crime investigations.
Posts: 6847 | Registered: Mar 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
RickyB
Member
Member # 1464

 - posted      Profile for RickyB   Email RickyB   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
"Wow. That... that was actually amazingly pathetic."

No, what's pathetic is your apparent support for an evil policy that has caused infinitely more suffering and sorrow than has helped a single, solitary human being, unless you count helping criminals and corrupt law enforcement make piles of money.

What's pathetic is you (apparently) supporting a "war" on me and my friends who do you no harm.

But at least you "hate drugs". (all of them, btw, or just the ones the government tells you to?)

Posts: 19145 | Registered: Jan 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Mynnion
Member
Member # 5287

 - posted      Profile for Mynnion   Email Mynnion   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
OK- I am a Medical Technologist (Lab tech). While I understand an individuals right to confront his/her accuser I have some serious issues with this action.

A busy lab processes thousands of tests a day. It is impossible to remember a test that was run on an individual a day later let alone the year or so it takes to get to court. The only probable reason for this is as Ron said above is to provide another target for the defense.

In addition, there is only ever a chain of evidence in rare cases since the function of a hospital lab is to look at clinical findings not legal ones. Since that is the case how you can't just stop at the end point (the tech) you would have to question the nurse or phlebotomist that collected the blood or urine who also will have no memory of the event.

I am strictly refering to hospital/medical labs. When an accident occurred with injuries a State Patrol officer can request a chain of evidence blood draw but that blood is taken to the State Crime Lab. In those cases a forensic tech would be responsible for running the test and I suppose appearing in court.

Lab errors are few and far between and the majority of the rare instrument failures are caught and resolved. That being said a good defense lawyer will likely attach the tech for any and every potential error that has ever occurred anywhere and possibly mock the fact that they have no memory of the testing their clients sample.

About ten years ago I was called to testify at a drunk driving trial. I had no memory of running the blood and there was no chain of custody since it was a medical draw. I appeared at the courthouse and waited all day. At the end of the day I was told that they had settled the case that morning, hadn't anyone told me?

It is certainly valid to call a forensic tech to testify. It is after all their job. However, the only possible reason to call a medical lab tech to testify is to provide a tool for the defense. They can read the results if my name is on it then I will state that I am certain that the result is valid. Is it possible that I am wrong? No one can say they have never made a mistake but the possibility for that one specific test to be incorrect when in all likelihood there is other substaniating evidence of the individuals guilt is astronomical.

[ July 16, 2009, 05:41 AM: Message edited by: Mynnion ]

Posts: 1271 | Registered: Sep 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Aris Katsaris
Member
Member # 888

 - posted      Profile for Aris Katsaris   Email Aris Katsaris   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
when in all likelihood there is other substantiating evidence of the individuals guilt is astronomical
I'd agree with most of your post, except the attitude exhibited here. When talking about the accuracy of one particular test, "other substantiating evidence" about guilt or innocence of a person should be utterly irrelevant. You're not judging the whole case, you're talking about that one specific test.
Posts: 3318 | Registered: Feb 2003  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
aupton15
Member
Member # 1771

 - posted      Profile for aupton15   Email aupton15   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Still, I think that is a pretty strong argument to let lab techs do their job and not drag them into court to testify that the results are 99% likely to be accurate, and that they have no specific memory of the person in question. Seems to me that if a lab tech doesn't even remember who the person is, then it becomes difficult to construe said lab tech as an "accuser." Now, if they have a personal relationship as well (probably happens a fair amount in small-town America), then by all means examine the possibility of a compromised result. But in general, I'm inclined to accept a basically anonymous test from an impartial technician as legit evidence.
Posts: 1445 | Registered: May 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
aupton15
Member
Member # 1771

 - posted      Profile for aupton15   Email aupton15   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Oh, as our resident lab tech pointed out, forensic technicians are obviously fair game. They'd probably be disappointed if no one asked their opinion ;-)
Posts: 1445 | Registered: May 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Lina Inverse
Member
Member # 6361

 - posted      Profile for Lina Inverse   Email Lina Inverse       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
I see the logistical problems with requiring lab technicians to testify routinely, but I do think that it's a good concept. Some lab tests are very accurate, but others aren't as definitive as they're sometimes portrayed--for example, many of the steroid tests done on athletes are very indirect measures that haven't been tested on many populations, and it's not really possible to say with confidence whether an outlying result is due to the athlete taking steroids or natural human variation.

[ July 16, 2009, 08:31 AM: Message edited by: Lina Inverse ]

Posts: 457 | Registered: Nov 2008  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Mynnion
Member
Member # 5287

 - posted      Profile for Mynnion   Email Mynnion   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Aris- You are absolutely correct. The accuracy of the test is in no way validated by other evidence.

What is funny about this is that in many cases the tech that reports out the result never even touches the sample (at least in a hospital setting). The sample is introduced to a robotic track that centrifuges the tube -> delivers it to the instrument -> then places it in storage only to be retrieved if the sample needs to be reviewed.

Lina- in the case of tests that may not meet the burden of proof the clinical pathologist of the lab should be the one to testify rather than the tech that completed the test. These cases are also generally civil rather than criminal and are not generally run by medical/hospital labs.

Posts: 1271 | Registered: Sep 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Mormegil
Member
Member # 2439

 - posted      Profile for Mormegil         Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
What's pathetic is you (apparently) supporting a "war" on me and my friends who do you no harm.
You're being a jerk to me here, does that count? Start a thread about the war on drugs if you want.

Plus I supported a policy change that would probably result in more drug users going free.

But yeah, a lot of drugs are illegal for recreational use, and yes, I am totally fine with that. Do I think the way the war on drugs is conducted is fine and dandy? No. Don't like it? Amazingly, that doesn't bother me at all. Tough. Too bad.

As far as drug use harming no one, tell that to my wife whose druggie dad sold her bike, stole her piggie bank, and didn't buy her any FOOD a lot of the time, because he needed money for drugs. Oh, but in your world, he'd probably get drugs free from the government so he wouldn't have been "forced" to do those things... it's the government's fault for making them illegal. Of course, having a druggie dad was AWFUL for many other reasons besides lack of food and getting robbed... legal drugs wouldn't have solved those problems at all.

But, I've let you drag me off point. Rebut all you want, I'm not going to discuss the drug war with you (childish of me, isn't it?), you're not going to change my mind, especially since you started so friendly and all.

By the way "I hate drugs" doesn't mean "I support the government's war on drugs." I hate alcohol too (my dad is a drunk), and that's not illegal, is it? Because what I was contrasting was my personal feelings about drugs, vs. what I think public policy should be. Wow!

Posts: 800 | Registered: May 2005  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
RickyB
Member
Member # 1464

 - posted      Profile for RickyB   Email RickyB   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
"As far as drug use harming no one, tell that to my wife whose druggie dad sold her bike, stole her piggie bank, and didn't buy her any FOOD a lot of the time, because he needed money for drugs. Oh, but in your world, he'd probably get drugs free from the government so he wouldn't have been "forced" to do those things..."

No. However, in "my world", something that costs about a dollar to produce wouldn't cost 50-100 dollars on the street, and just as few if any nicotin addicts sell their kids bikes for a fix, so would these.

But you go feel all "fine and dandy".

(edited to remove personal attacks which, while I feel are justified, are contrary to rules and understandings here)

[ July 16, 2009, 12:35 PM: Message edited by: RickyB ]

Posts: 19145 | Registered: Jan 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
hobsen
Member
Member # 2923

 - posted      Profile for hobsen   Email hobsen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Mormegil seems to have made his point that he does not approve of everything done in connection with the war on drugs. And this does not seem the thread to discuss which substances if any should remain illegal, and how laws against them should be enforced. Some restrictions seem to be necessary, for example,
quote:
Ricin (pronounced /ˈraɪ sɨn/) is a protein toxin that is extracted from the castor bean (Ricinus communis). It can be either a white powder or a liquid in crystalline form. Ricin can cause severe allergic reactions, and exposure to small quantities can be fatal.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) gives a possible minimum figure of 500 micrograms (about half a grain of sand) for the lethal dose of ricin in humans if exposure is from injection or inhalation.

Permitting uncontrolled access to a powder which anyone can spray into a crowd and kill half the people in it does not seem practical. Obviously ricin is not a recreational drug, but forbidding severely harmful recreational drugs seems no different in practice. The problem now may be that too many such substances are forbidden, and enforcement is uneven and corrupt.


As for the testing question, I am persuaded by the technicians who say that bringing them into court would be useless, as they would remember nothing about a test performed long ago anyway. But it would seem defendants should have the right to challenge test results and have them repeated with all needed supervision by a laboratory of their choosing, whenever this is possible. But I do not know what the law is now on this.

[ July 16, 2009, 02:11 PM: Message edited by: hobsen ]

Posts: 4387 | Registered: Jul 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Mynnion
Member
Member # 5287

 - posted      Profile for Mynnion   Email Mynnion   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Hobson,

The issue with retesting is that there is a limited time frame where alcohol can be detected. The majority of drugs of abuse stay in the system significantly longer but if the charge is DUI any testing done at a later date only proves that an individual has used the substance. Not that they were high at arrest.

As I stated earlier in a medical lab the samples are not collected for legal purposes so most labs only hols samples for a few days so unless the request to test the initial sample is made quickly there will be no sample to send to another lab.

It is not practical for a lab to hold all positive samples for a long period of time just in case. The court needs to draw a distinction between forensic and medical labs.

Posts: 1271 | Registered: Sep 2007  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
hobsen
Member
Member # 2923

 - posted      Profile for hobsen   Email hobsen   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Thanks for the information, Mynnion. However the enforcement of laws against alcohol abuse is not usually considered part of the war on drugs. Can retesting be done for illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin? And for drugs like those, the presence of any significant amount would usually be evidence of a crime, as any use is illegal. A possible exception might be for a person who had a prescription for legal use, and also obtained larger quantities illegally, but I should think such cases would be rare.

[ July 16, 2009, 04:07 PM: Message edited by: hobsen ]

Posts: 4387 | Registered: Jul 2006  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
RickyB
Member
Member # 1464

 - posted      Profile for RickyB   Email RickyB   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
Coke and heroin wash out within days. Weed sticks around for a couple of weeks at least, but there is no spot test for it - need to piss in a cup.
Posts: 19145 | Registered: Jan 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
Rallan
Member
Member # 1936

 - posted      Profile for Rallan   Email Rallan   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
quote:
Originally posted by philnotfil:
What is the different between the lab tech reading the report to the judge, and the prosecutor reading the lab report to the judge?

Because if it's the prosecutor presenting the lab report, you've basically got nothing but a prepared statement with no real room for cross-examination beyond pointing out any inconsistencies that might exist in the text. After all, the lawyer's not an expert in how a forensics lab works and he had nothing to do with the tests they ran, so he can't exactly give an informed opinion on what happened.

Put a guy from the lab on the stand though, and it's possible to ask about the procedures involved, how reliable they usually are, and whether the lab tech considers what he had to work with on this case enough to guaruntee rock solid results or whether he thinks there's a bit more room for ambiguity than usual.

Posts: 2570 | Registered: Jul 2004  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
TomDavidson
Member
Member # 99

 - posted      Profile for TomDavidson   Email TomDavidson   Send New Private Message       Edit/Delete Post   Reply With Quote 
And, of course (speaking as someone married to a lab tech), if you ask any technician something like "Are you sure something didn't go wrong on this test," there's no way they'll say "yes." I mean, they just can't. They're incapable of it. They'll say something like "it's very unlikely" or "in my professional opinion, I believe all the correct procedures were followed" or "there's a less than three percent chance." All of which help the defense.
Posts: 22935 | Registered: Nov 2000  |  IP: Logged | Report this post to a Moderator
   

Quick Reply
Message:

HTML is not enabled.
UBB Code™ is enabled.
UBB Code™ Images not permitted.
Instant Graemlins
   


Post New Topic  Post A Reply Close Topic   Feature Topic   Move Topic   Delete Topic next oldest topic   next newest topic
 - Printer-friendly view of this topic
Hop To:


Contact Us | Ornery.org Front Page

Powered by Infopop Corporation
UBB.classic™ 6.7.1