The Supreme Court Splits the baby in the Scottsdale Crime Lab Cases.

The highly anticipated Arizona Supreme Court opinion regarding the Scottsdale Crime Lab scandal was issued yesterday.   In a very Solomon like decision, the Court granted both sides some relief.

 

The decision contains a lot of legal nuance requiring explanation. Here is a summary and a few thoughts:

 

Admissible Is Not The Same As Reliable

 

While the Court decided the blood alcohol measurements are admissible - they did not hold they are reliable. There is a big difference.  As a matter of fact, the Court expressed its concerns with the Scottsdale Crime Lab's "shaky" evidence. 

 

The Court merely held the prosecution may present the blood alcohol measurements to a jury and argue they are reliable.  The jury will make the final decision.

 

This standard is similar to a finding there was probable cause for a person's case to proceed to trial.  However, at trial, the same evidence will now need to exceed a much higher threshold - beyond reasonable doubt.

 

What Effect Did Yesterday's Decision Have On The Lower Courts' Rulings?

 

There were two lower court rulings: (1) the trial court's ruling suppressing the evidence; and (2) the Court of Appeals ruling reversing.

 
The Arizona Supreme Court vacated the relevant portions of the Court of Appeals decision and the trial court's ruling.  It then issued a new opinion which provided additional guidance on the admissibility of scientific evidence in a jury trial.
 
The Legal Boundaries Of The Supreme Court's Decision.
 
A few years ago, Arizona adopted something called the Daubert standard for the admission of scientific evidence. This was reflected by an amendment to Rule 702 of the Arizona Rules of Evidence.
 
The Court's holding here was limited to only one of the requirements of Rule 702.  Specifically the ruling is limited to subsection (d) of Rule 702, which focuses on the reliable application of a methodology to the facts.
 
What Did Each Side Get Out Of The Supreme Court's Decision?
 
The prosecution avoids mass dismissals of cases where they claim a driver was impaired, but now they have to persuade a jury in every case that the crime lab's forensic malpractice does not matter.
 
The defense is primarily benefited in two ways: (1) the right to present all the evidence of the crime lab's malpractice is firmly established; and presumably (2) the right to obtain evidence of software malfunctions and errors from the crime laboratory also appears to be affirmed. 
 
The Court's acknowledgement that the evidence presented at the 17 day pretrial hearing was both relevant and admissible at trial, implicitly holds that the defense has a right to this evidence in discovery.  This is a significant change.
 
The majority of the evidence presented to the trial court by the defense was not provided by the prosecution.  It was obtained through the collaboration of the defense community and through requests made pursuant to Arizona's public records laws.  
 
Moreover, before the pretrial hearing, there was a court order requiring the Scottsdale Crime Lab to provide the defense with all the data produced in 2011.  They were given a significant amount of time to comply, but did not even attempt to gather the information. Instead, the prosecution appealed the order, and the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed.  
 
The prosecution convinced the appellate court that the defense was merely on a "fishing expedition."  However, in hindsight, it turns out there were some pretty big fish in the pond. We can only imagine what we would have found if the yesterday's opinion had been in place at that time.
 
The holding also appears to clear the way for the defense to present a jury with evidence of the hundreds of catastrophic software malfunctions resulting in unreliable and misleading evidence.  The jury may now discover, that for years, the lab hid this damming evidence.  They may hear of internal crime lab emails from analysts admitting to deleting "incorrect results." 
 
And yes, prior to this decision, the prosecution vigorously argued the jury should not hear this evidence.
 
Does This Decision End The Debate Over The Scottsdale Crime Lab's Forensic Malpractice Issues?
 
Nope.
 
The issues will continue to be litigated - one case at a time. However, we now have some new rules of the road that empower the defense to present their case.  
 
In Sum
 
...the decision means we can't shop for justice at Costco. While there will not be a bulk dismissal of consolidated cases, we still get to present these issues one case at a time...jury by jury. 
 
This could take a while.
 
RELATED:
 
 

Arizona Extreme DUI: The Out of State Visitor Dilemma

The harsh penalties for an Arizona extreme DUI conviction have been well chronicled in this blog.  However, what happens when we apply these penalties to people who were only visiting Arizona and charged with DUI?

One could take the view: who cares?  When people come to "our state" and commit crimes, they deserve whatever they get.  On the other hand, you could look at what I believe are the unintended effects of these penalties on visitors to Arizona.  Moreover, these unintended consequences really demonstrate the disconnect between what should be the goals of the law (deterrence) and the means (more jail) used to carry out those goals.

Here are some basic facts.  First, for obvious reasons, we get a lot of visitors to Arizona.  Second, we have DUI laws and enforcement that are much stricter than in most states. And third, despite the promise that increased penalties (i.e. jail time) would prevent DUI offenses, it appears law enforcement agencies are still arresting the same amount (or more) of people for DUI.  If there is a reader of this post who has some statistic showing my third premise is incorrect, please post it in the comments and I will publish it.  However, I am doubtful that anyone will find such a statistic.  In addition, I contend that the increased DUI penalties fail to deter both in-state and out-of-state visitors.  Thus, visitors to Arizona, lots of visitors to Arizona, are getting charged with DUI offenses.

Let's add the penalties for an Arizona extreme DUI conviction to the equation.  For a first time extreme DUI offense (i.e. blood alcohol result of .150 and below a .200), even if the judge believes you are the best person on the planet, the minimum sentence is 30 days jail.  Combine this with certain prosecuting agencies that offer a plea agreement of 30 days jail (or close to it), and out-of-state visitors have a real problem.

For the Arizona resident, 30 days jail is a tremendous burden.  However, at least with work release, you should be able to keep your employment.  If you live in California and are sentenced to 30 days jail in Arizona, your job (your career) is now in jeopardy.  How many employers are going to say "sure, take thirty days off to go serve a jail term in Scottsdale, no problem?"  This misdemeanor offense can have penalties that could ruin someones livelihood.

Here are the solutions we have found in the past.  An out-of-state visitor can request an order to do their jail in their home state.  That request is almost always granted.  However, the judge will tell you it is "your" responsibility to find a jail in your home state that will comply with the incarceration order.  In my experience, the average person can find a jail that will take them for a day or two, but 30 days - good luck!  To solve this problem, we have had to employ former law enforcement officers and had them assist with getting our clients accepted into the facility.  Even using this method, it is still difficult.  Moreover, how many people can afford this service?

The other option is going to trial.  If you can convince the jury that your blood alcohol concentration was merely over .08 but below .150, then the minimum jail is reduced to one (1) day.

In sum, Arizona has set up a terrible dilemma for out-of-state visitors charged with extreme DUI.  My experience is that prosecuting agencies have little sympathy for the unique problems they face.  The reality is law enforcement takes the attitude - "its your problem - deal with it."  Dealing with it may be a lot harder for out-of-state visitors.

If you need legal advice for a specific problem, you must consult with an Arizona Criminal Defense Attorney. For more information about Arizona Criminal Law or a specific legal problem, please contact Koplow & Patane Online or by phone at (602) 494-3444.