Friday, April 5, 2013

DC Court of Appeals Ruling Could Affect DC DUIs

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals reversed the conviction of Robert C. Young for a violation of Mr. Young's 6th Amendment rights.  The full opinion can be seen here.  

The sixth amendment issue involved the testimony of an FBI examiner who testified that Mr. Young's DNA matched DNA evidence found at the scene of a rape in NE Washington, DC.  Mr. Young argued to the Court that it was reversible error to admit the FBI examiner's testimony without calling the lab technicians "who derived and identified the two DNA profiles and performed the calculations on which the testifying examiner based her conclusions."  To permit the FBI examiner's testimony was a clear violation of the Confrontation Clause.

The Court relied upon Supreme Court cases Williams v. IllinoisBullcoming v. New Mexico, and Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, to hold that the introduction of the FBI examiner's testimony was in violation of Mr. Young's 6th Amendment right to confront.  Specifically, the Court stated that because the FBI examiner did not physically oversee the DNA testing or have any involvement in generating the data, the government could not introduce the results of the DNA analysis through the examiner.  

This opinion is a tremendous step in the right direction for 6th Amendment jurisprudence in the District of Columbia and could potentially have far reaching ramifications in other criminal cases involving forensic evidence.  For example, the Young opinion could drastically affect the way some Driving Under the Influence Cases are litigated.  

Currently, many Judges in DC Superior Court allow the introduction of forensic evidence in some DUI cases through testimony of the Deputy Chief Toxicologist of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Lucas Zarwell.  Although Mr. Zarwell merely overseas the OCME laboratory and has absolutely zero involvement in the actual testing of chemical samples, Judges have repeatedly overlooked clear cut 6th Amendment rights and allowed Mr. Zarwell to testify to forensic testing results.  This is virtually the exact same situation the Court of Appeals addressed in Young.  Mr. Zarwell has no personal knowledge of the testing, he simply reviews the data generated by one of his lab technicians and forms an "opinion" on the results.  

DC DUI defense lawyers have been challenging this practice for the past few years by filing motions and making oral arguments based on the rulings in Williams, Bullcomings and Melendez-Diaz.  Hopefully now that the DC Court of Appeals has further clarified an individual's 6th Amendment rights in Young, the Judges in Superior Court will have no choice but to force the District Government to present its forensic evidence in a constitutionally valid way.

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