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Supreme Court Rejects Mass. Drug Evidence Policy

This article is more than 10 years old.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the state of Massachusetts on Thursday in a case that could have significant implications for how drug cases are prosecuted.

In a 5-4 ruling, the court found that defendants have a constitutional right to cross-examine drug lab analysts.

"What the Supreme Court is saying in this ruling is prosecutors can no longer rely on a certificate from a lab that a particular substance was drugs," said David Frank, a reporter with Mass Lawyers Weekly who has written about the case.

The case represents a victory for Luis Melendez-Diaz, who was convicted for cocaine trafficking based partly on drug lab evidence, and who had appealed the verdict of several lower courts.

Attorney General Martha Coakley, who had argued the case before the Supreme Court, said she was disappointed in the ruling.

"We will now be taking chemists who were doing analysis out of the lab to wait, sometimes hours, sometimes days, in district court," Coakley said. "They can't be doing work if they're traveling all over the commonwealth. So it is a huge burden."

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the narrow majority, arguing that Massachusetts' drug evidence policy was unconstitutional based on Melendez-Diaz's right to "confront" the evidence of his accusers.

This program aired on June 25, 2009. The audio for this program is not available.

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