Information Overload: is a Recent Supreme Court Ruling Burying Our Nation's Forensic Investigators in Paperwork? - HDNet's 'Dan Rather Reports' Investigates

Guest Reporter Dahlia Lithwick investigates the ruling that is causing a mountain of paper for local courts -Tuesday, June 15 at 8:00 p.m. ET only on HDNet

Jun 14, 2010, 17:02 ET from HDNet

DALLAS, June 14 /PRNewswire/ -- This Tuesday, "Dan Rather Reports" examines a Supreme Court ruling that, when first issued, had prosecutors around the country up in arms, saying that the decision would overwhelm the judicial system, basically bringing the prosecution of narcotics cases to a standstill.  But no journalist has gone in-depth on this issue until now.


This week's story is filed by guest reporter Dahlia Lithwick who covers the Supreme Court as the senior editor for the online magazine SLATE and as a contributing editor at NEWSWEEK magazine.  Lithwick is a highly respected and sought after legal reporter who is a regular guest on television and radio and whose work has also appeared in THE NEW YORK TIMES.  

The ruling at the heart of the report was a 5 to 4 decision on Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, which centered around a provision of the Sixth Amendment in the Bill of Rights - the right for a defendant to face his or her accusers.  The ruling did not fall across traditional liberal and conservative lines, suggesting another way to view the Supreme Court is between realists and idealists.

The Court ruled that that right also included a group that people don't normally define as an "accuser" – the lab technicians who work in crime labs measuring drugs and preparing breathalyzer machines.

So now, instead of the possibility of being convicted on the basis of a paper report from a lab technician, the technician could now be compelled to appear in court to testify about their findings.

While some call this ruling a victory for due process, others believe it is simply going to overburden the local and state Court system.

"Just for instance, in Lee County it's a six hour drive one way for a chemist to go and testify in a case," Mike Doucette, the Commonwealth Attorney for Lynchburg, VA tells Lithwick.  "And then turn around and go right back - when all the chemist is going to say is what's on the certificate of analysis:  'Yes, it's cocaine.'"

However, defense attorneys feel that the new ruling provides a pivotal tool in some of their tougher cases.

"If the analysis is gonna make or break your case, certainly, you're gonna want 'em [the technicians] there to see if they did use the proper methodology, and was there any subjectivity and were they properly trained," said Virginia Defense Attorney Debbie Caldwell-Bono.  "And you know, does it stand up to cross-analysis?"  

Does this new ruling help defend our rights under law, or is it a major distraction – and paperwork overload – for our court system?  Find out this week on "Dan Rather Reports."

"Dan Rather Reports" airs Tuesday, June 15 at 8:00 p.m. ET with an encore presentation at 11:00 p.m. ET to accommodate West Coast Prime Time.

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