A 2009 Supreme Court decision is forcing technicians in Virginia's forensic lab to perform drug tests and show up in court to testify about the results. Now, the state is trying to help the techs keep up with demand, because they don't expect the pace to slack off anytime soon.
In Melendez-Diaz vs. Massachusetts, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it violates citizens' Sixth Amendment rights to present forensic test results in court without providing the opportunity for the defendant to confront the person that performed the tests.
So examiners must now testify when subpoenaed in lieu of merely relying on test results. And that takes time, says Virginia Chemistry Program Manager Linda Jackson.
"It certainly has increased about 10 times the amount of hours out of the laboratory which, obviously, does take away from time where an analyst can actually be analyzing cases," Jackson says. At the same time, state labs' drug case workloads have grown significantly,
In order to lighten that load, video testimony can be used in some courts. In others, the courts designate DUI days on which all the related cases are scheduled together to reduce the time impact for toxicology staff