New Supreme Court ruling impacts Mesa County court cases

By: Lisa McDivitt Email
By: Lisa McDivitt Email

A new Supreme Court ruling might significantly change the way some criminal cases are tried here in Mesa County.

The five to four ruling last week requires that any lab evidence offered by prosecutors must be accompanied by the lab technician or analyst who produced the result to testify to a jury.

11 Today Reporter Lisa McDivitt explains a little more about what this ruling is, and how it could affect people locally.

This ruling basically expands on the Sixth Amendment, which gives anyone accused of a crime the right to face the witnesses against him.

She caught up with District Attorney Pete Hautzinger and Defense Attorney Steve Laiche to find out how this might change the way cases are tried here in Mesa County.

Hautzinger says, "Ironically, it's going to have the biggest effect on the DUI, misdemeanor and traffic cases.”

Hautzinger says that for felony cases that require fingerprint analysis or DNA testing, it will likely be business as usual.

"This is the post-CSI generation. Jurors expect to see lots of bells and whistles, and I'm going to want an expert to be testifying live in front of the jury on fingerprints, DNA or drug testing," he says.

This is made easier by the fact that the Colorado Bureau of Investigation recently placed a branch in the Grand Valley.

But for those DUI and misdemeanor cases, the new Supreme Court ruling might be shaking things up.

"The days of just going into trial and having a print out from a breath machine are over. It's not like a radical seat change, but I think it's going to have an impact,” he says.

What makes the ruling so different for Mesa County is somewhat logistical. The kind of lab testing used in DUI cases is done in Denver, which means the analysts now required to testify along with the lab results will have to travel from the Front Range.

"There is a fairly significant expense in bringing people over from Denver to testify on every DUI case,” he says.

That bill is paid with taxpayer money only if the defendant is found not guilty.

If convicted, the defendant will be responsible for footing the bill.

But Laiche doesn't think cost is a valid argument against the ruling.
"That is just the weakest, smallest of arguments I've ever heard of. What kind of price can you put on someone's liberty?”

As a follow-up note, the opinions of these local attorneys lines up with the feeling of many other attorneys nationwide who have spoken to national media about this new ruling.

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