More Fallout from Melendez-Diaz

February 20th, 2011

Last week I blogged about the acquittal of Luis Melendez-DIaz, who was retried following the Supreme Court’s huge Confrontation Clause case. Some more fall-out from the case. Massachusetts does not have enough chemists to testify at all of the criminal trials.

From the Herald News:

The problem is that there are too many drugs and too few chemists. Prosecutors have run into a wall. They are having difficulty bringing all of their drug cases to trial.

“We have approximately 40,000 illegal drug possession and drug dealing cases per year in Massachusetts,” Sutter said. “About 10 percent of those, or 4,000, are in Bristol County.

“We have approximately 35 chemists that analyze these drugs for the entire state.”
About 10 percent of the drug cases go to trial, Sutter said.

“That reality presents substantial problems for the 11 district attorneys. Constantly, these 35 chemists are needed in more than one place on a particular day,” Sutter said.
Prosecutor Seth Aiken faced that dilemma last week in District Court. He was called forward to explain to Judge Gilbert Nadeau why the commonwealth was not ready to go ahead with the trial of a Fall River man charged with possession of oxycontin.

The chemist who tested the drugs was in another county and would be all day, Aiken said.

“Is there an attempt by the DA or the chemist office to coordinate efforts and roll up cases for the chemists to appear?” Nadeau asked. Aiken admitted he did not know. Nadeau granted a continuance, over the objection of defense lawyer George Paul van Duinwyk.

In Melendez-Diaz, Justice Kennedy dissented:

By requiring analysts also to appear in the far greater number of cases where defendants do not dispute the analyst’s result, the Court imposes enormous costs on the administration of justice.