The Court of Appeal in Buchanan v. U.S., decided on August 3, 2017, remanded a Possession with Intent to Distribute (PWID) Marijuana case due to the government’s lack of compliance with the specific scientific discovery requests by defense as deemed to be material on appeal.

Specifically, the defendant had requested these documents in preparation for trial from the government pursuant to Rule 16, which provides for discovery of specific information within the government’s control such as: books, papers, documents, photographs, which are material to the preparation of the defendant’s defense.

The defense with the assistance of an independent chemist and affidavits supporting their position had requested via discovery the:

  • The standard operating procedures (SOP) of the DEA lab;
  • Validation studies relating to those procedures
  • Maintenance and calibration records for the equipment used by the DEA lab
  • Audit reports on the operations of the DEA lab
  • Training materials used by the lab, and
  • Proficiency examinations and performance evaluations for the chemist who had tested the suspected marijuana.

The trial court had granted discovery of some of the documents requested however not all.

On appeal, the defendant argued the trial court committed a reversible error in denying the discovery requests as they were supported by:

  1. Unrebutted qualified expert affidavits,
  2. Specifically identifying potential error in the testing techniques by the DEA chemist,
  3. The materiality of the requested discovery requests and
  4. Absence of any likely burden on the government.

The Court of Appeals went through an extensive legal analysis to determine whether the requested items were material and discoverable.

Specifically, the Court considered whether there is:

  • Reasonable likelihood that requested evidence will lead to other admissible evidence, or
  • Would assist in the preparation for a witness, or
  • Be useful as impeachment or rebuttal.

Moreover, whether there has been showing of materiality of evidence sought in that the:

  • Presentation of facts which would tend to
  • A showing that the government is in possession of information helpful to the defense or that
  • An indication that disclosure of the item would in fact enable the defendant to significantly alter the quantum of proof in his favor or that
  • The documents sought can potentially refute the government’s arguments that the defendant committed the crime charged.

The Court of Appeals ultimately decided that the defense has established via independent accredited chemist the materiality of the items sought and was able to sufficiently link lack of disclosure to the guilty trial verdict.

The Court remanded the matter for the trial court to consider ordering disclosure of the DEA lab:

  1. Validation studies,
  2. Maintenance and calibration records for the GC/MS equipment used,
  3. Audit reports,
  4. The DEA laboratory SOPs and training materials and
  5. The DEA chemist‘s proficiency examination results and performance evaluations.

The Court of Appeals in this case created a larger scope in the Rule 16 discovery rule pertaining to drug cases and the drug analysis protocol and procedures available to defense review.

Contact our DC Criminal lawyer/DC drug lawyer for an initial case evaluation and analysis.

Categories: Criminal Defense.