The Massachusetts Appeals Court today reversed a man's conviction on charges of trafficking in cocaine and heroin because his lawyer didn't have a chance to cross-examine the expert who certified the bag he allegedly threw out a car window contained enough of the two drugs to warrant serious jail time.
The reversal is the latest in a series of setbacks for prosecutors, primarily in Suffolk County, following the Supreme Court's narrowly rejection earlier this year of Massachusetts's contention - argued personally by Attorney General Martha Coakley - that certificates signed by experts were not subject to a constitutional requirement that defendants be allowed to confront their accusers.
Jake Wark, spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney's office said today that in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, drug chemists and ballistics experts are now "standard trial witnesses." He added, "Narcotics cases are far more common than gun cases, though, so we're exploring with the Trial Court ways in which we can streamline the
process to take the fewest chemists out of the lab at a time."
In today's ruling, the appeals court threw out Carlos Rivera's 2005 conviction. State and Revere Police charged they saw him throw a bag out of a car containing substantial amounts of cocaine and heroin during a chase and that they found additional quantities of the drugs in his apartment after his arrest.
At his trial, Suffolk County prosecutors introduced eight certificates from a state drug expert that not only were the seized substances the two drugs but that there were sufficient quantities to trigger the state's trafficking law.
In their argument to Rivera's appeal, prosecutors argued this case was different from other overturned cases because Rivera did not initially object to statements about the amount and composition of the drugs, but rather based his defense on what his lawyers said was the inability of investigators to prove the drugs were actually his.
The appeals court, however, noted that defense lawyers had initially objected to the introduction of the certificates and said that even if they hadn't, the certificates were so important to the prosecution's case that to allow them would be a violation of Rivera's rights.
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