Meeting with lab analysts and forensic pathologists prior to trial

Lab analysts at the State Crime Lab and forensic pathologists and toxicologists at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) are available to discuss cases with attorneys prior to trial. These experts can provide important information about the tests that were performed, the limitations of those tests, and the possibility of doing additional testing. Attorneys and lab analysts can also review the reports that were received in discovery to make sure all lab reports have been provided.

A pretrial conference is an opportunity to ask basic questions and clarify which issues are actually in dispute. Attorneys may be concerned about appearing uninformed when asking such questions, but it is better to appear uninformed at a pretrial conference than before the jury. Also, it would be an analyst’s folly to assume that an attorney asking basic questions at a pretrial meeting does not have a good understanding of the forensic analysis in question.

Defense attorneys can meet with analysts without the District Attorney being present. State Crime Lab analysts will make a notation in the communication log in the lab file that a pretrial meeting with defense counsel occurred. A similar notation would be made if the analyst met with members of the District Attorney’s office.  Attorneys and other team members who attend should decide prior to the meeting whether to reveal any trial strategy or simply seek information and should avoid any unnecessary comments.

At a pretrial conference, an analyst can explain language or notations in reports. The meaning of language in reports may be different from what the attorney expects. Analysts can also explain limitations of tests that were used. For example, in a case where ingestion of a particular substance could provide either a defense or be used for mitigation evidence but the toxicology report contains a negative result for that substance, the analyst may be able to explain whether additional testing could be useful. In tests for some substances, the level of detection is set so that only a potentially lethal amount of that substance would be detected. This information about the limitation of a screening test may provide the attorney with information needed to determine what additional testing should be done. Attorneys should also consider whether to bring their expert to these meetings, or at minimum, should consult with their expert about topics that should be discussed prior to the meeting.

Analysts at other crime labs may or may not be willing to schedule pretrial conferences. To schedule a meeting with an analyst from the State Crime Lab, call Margie McLamb at 919-662-4500. To schedule a meeting with a forensic pathologist or toxicologist from the OCME,call 919-743-9000.

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