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Supreme Court Decision Plays Role in Drug Convictions Being Overturned

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A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that criminal defendants have the right to directly challenge forensic experts who prepare drug tests and other lab reports has caused several gun and drug convictions to be overturned in Massachusetts, the Boston Globe reported Dec. 9.

This week, a state appeals court reversed the conviction of a Boston man convicted of cocaine trafficking near a school and ordered a new trial; the court ruled that the defendant should have had the opportunity to question analysts from the state drug lab.

Prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in June — which said the Sixth Amendment allows criminal defendants to confront witnesses against them — prosecutors in states like Massachusetts typically presented forensic evidence without allowing defense attorneys to cross-examine lab experts.

Dozens of other convictions in Massachusetts also could be reversed as a result of the high court's ruling. “It is now being raised in virtually every pending appeal from a drug conviction, regardless of whether it was raised in the trial court and regardless of whether the nature of the substance was even contested at trial,” said Plymouth District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz, president of the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association.

There were more than 46,000 drug cases in Massachusetts in 2007, handled by just 23 workers in two state drug labs. Officials questioned how those experts could be expected to testify in court and still get any work done.

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