"Field Test" By Cops For Cocaine Not Enough to Overcome Confontation Clause Problem

Massachusetts Drug Laws.  Two companion cases were decided and opinions published by the Massachusetts SJC on January 19, 2012 that involved appellate challenges to certificates of drug analysis.  The cases were: Commonwealth v. King, Case Number SJC-10844, and Commonwealth v. Billings, Case Number SJC-10847.  Both of these cases involved charges alleging that the defendants unlawfully distributed cocaine.  In both of these cases, the Commonwealth presented a "certificate of drug analysis" at trial, without the testimony of the analyst who tested the alleged drugs.  The Commonwealth also presented testimony that the arresting detective had "field-tested" the substances at issue and that the substance "tested positive" for cocaine in both cases.

It is well-settled in the wake of the 2009 United States Supreme Court ruling in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts  that admitting a "certificate of drug analysis" at trial without affording the accused the opportunity to cross examine the person who tested the drugs violates the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause.  In these cases the Commonwealth attempted to boot-strap "field-testing" by the police to the certificate of analysis to establish that the substance was cocaine.  The Supreme Judicial Court rejected the argument in both cases and reversed the drug convictions in both cases.

This makes logical sense as well as legal sense.  "Field testing kits" are screening tools used by the cops to determine whether a substance might be what they think it is.  The cops will send the substance to a lab for more scientifically reliable testing if the "field test" renders a positive reading.

To rely exclusively on a field test for cocaine to prove that the substance is really cocaine beyond a reasonable doubt would be like rushing out to buy baby clothes and furniture based entirely on a home pregnancy test without ever going to see a doctor for real testing.

If you have been accused by the police in New Hampshire of "Driving under the Influence of a Controlled Drug", "Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol and/or a Controlled Drug", "possession of marijuana", "possession of controlled drug"or transportation of marijuana, feel free to call Attorney Mark Stevens today at 603-893-0074 to arrange a free consultation to discuss your case.

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