When does a violation of criminal procedure prevent prosecutors from using incriminating evidence at a criminal trial?
A man charged with manslaughter, assault, criminally negligent homicide and boating while impaired has just received a huge break. Though witnesses saw him taking drugs, including cocaine and hashish, and though drug tests found three types of drugs in his system, his criminal defense lawyers will not have to deal with all of the evidence at trial. Warren County prosecutors have announced they will not be using the drug test results because of a procedural error.
Jurors Will Not See Scientific Evidence Pointing to Drug Use
The defendant, a resident of Queensbury, New York, had been driving over the nighttime speed limit on the lake when the accident occurred. Drugs were found in the cabin of his boat. Seventeen hours after the accident, laboratory tests revealed the presence of marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy in his blood. A forensic toxicologist testified to a grand jury that the drugs would have impaired the defendant's ability to operate the boat.
But prosecutors have said in court that they will not be relying on the blood work because of legal problems with the way the prosecutors obtained the search warrant for chemical analysis. As a result, jurors will never see the lab results at trial, though they can still hear eyewitness testimony of drug use. The defendant, who could receive a sentence of up to 22 years if convicted, is currently free on bail.
Search Warrant Was Obtained After the Search Had Been Completed
The procedural problems with the evidence may stem from an oral application for a search warrant made to a Warren County Judge. It appears that the sample had already been taken before the search warrant was requested. As a result, the defendant's constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment were violated.
Because the laboratory evidence of drug use was presented to the grand jury that indicted the defendant, the defendant's attorney has argued that if the prosecutors knew their evidence was tainted, the entire indictment should be thrown out. Observers note that the illegal obtaining of evidence does not necessarily invalidate an indictment and that there is other incriminating evidence.
Procedural Error Weakens the Prosecutor's Case
While the prosecutor's case may survive this setback and the defendant may go on to be convicted using other evidence, the omission of crucial laboratory evidence is a serious blow, complicating what might have been an open-and-shut case. It also shows the importance of diligence on both sides of a criminal case -- on the part of law enforcement officers and prosecutors, who must avoid errors, and criminal defense lawyers, who must work assiduously to detect them.
Effective counsel is essential in ensuring that prosecutors prove their case legally, in accordance with criminal procedure and the Constitution. If you have been charged in a criminal case, whether it involves alleged drug use, driving under the influence, or other conduct, Ianniello Anderson, P.C. provides informed advice. Serving clients in the Albany, Clifton Park, Glens Falls, Saratoga Springs, Troy, and the entire Northeastern NY areas at (518) 350.7755.