In 2012, I discussed the fact there were real problems with the scientific evidence offered by the state in criminal cases and that many courts not only let the questionable evidence come in, but even prevented the defense from bringing up the problems.
In 2013, I wrote about the problems with a machine used for blood tests in Scottsdale DUI cases specifically, and about how a superior court judge actually ruled that blood test results in several cases were inadmissible pursuant to Rule 702 of the Arizona Rules of Evidence because the scientific principles and methods weren’t being applied reliably because of their equipment problems. Always the skeptic (and usually right), I was less than optimistic about what the appellate court would do.
In 2014, I was (sadly) proven right, and I explained how the court of appeals vacated the superior court’s ruling on the admissibility of evidence from Scottsdale’s broken machine. Unsurprisingly, the court thought the state had shown the results were scientifically valid and the defense didn’t present anything suggesting the results for the defendants were inaccurate.
In 2015, just yesterday, in fact, the Supreme Court of Arizona finally issued its opinion. In the end, it’s a compromise:
We hold that courts, as gatekeepers, should consider whether a methodology has been correctly applied. But we conclude that errors in application should result in the exclusion of evidence only if they render the expert’s conclusions unreliable; otherwise, the jury should be allowed to consider whether the expert properly applied the methodology in determining the weight or credibility of the expert testimony.
As the court explains later, the questionable results come in unless flaws in the application of a reliable methodology “so infect the procedure as to make the results unreliable.” The court acknowledges the machine’s data drops, mislabeling, and the laboratory’s failure to remove the instrument from service, but that is apparently is not enough to require preclusion. The court did, thankfully, give us a hint about what that would take:
A different conclusion would result if an instrument did not accurately measure a known standard or failed to produce consistent results for replicate samples within a required range.
At least we know what it takes to get results precluded now, right? Of course, the state does too, and I’m sure they will be more than willing to disclose everything to the defense in those cases where the exact issues that our highest state court considers preclusion-worthy happen to be present. It was undoubtedly an unfortunate oversight when the state in the case I’m discussing withheld the very evidence that led us here in the first place.
The real (and only) silver lining of the opinion is at the end:
This is not to say that the malfunctions or the lab’s failure to resolve them are irrelevant. The jury may consider the instrument’s malfunctioning and the laboratory staff’s related concerns when assessing the weight or credibility of the test results.
Victory! It only took a few years, and now, although the faulty machine’s test results are going to be admissible, juries will at least get to hear about its malfunctions and the lab’s failure to address them. It’s certainly better than nothing, but my prediction is lots of litigation from here on about the scope of what comes in.
Filed under: DUI · Tags: 702, admissible, blood test, broken machine, court of appeal, crime lab, decision, DUI, DWI, evidence, gas chromatograph, GCMS, opinion, precluded, scottsdale, superior court, supreme court, trial court