Closing the Divide between the Forensic Scientists and Defense Attorneys

The Michigan State Police Forensic Science Division is responsible for testing blood samples for the presence and quantification of alcohol and/or controlled substances for all DUI prosecutions in the state. Their staff includes approximately 40 forensic scientists and technicians who are responsible for the analysis of about 15,000 blood and urine samples annually. They are the ones that testify in court about analysis should it be necessary, at a trial or hearing. Therefore, they are the ones that defense lawyers cross examine when fighting a case.

Criminal defense vs. forensic science testimony

Every year, the forensic science division holds a two-day training program for their staff. This year, in Gaylord, Mich., I became the first criminal defense attorney to present to the forensic science division (specifically for their toxicology and controlled substance disciplines). It was an honor to be selected, as it demonstrates that they have respect for my work and intelligence of this field. They thought I would provide them an expert analysis of the defense side of forensic science in the context of a DUI litigation.

We discussed a variety of interesting subjects during the 60 minute presentation such as:

  • the necessity for prosecutors to receive forensic science training,
  • the training available to defense lawyers, and
  • why defense lawyers may come off like they are personally attacking them on the witness stand.

We all agreed that, as scientists, they should not be biased for the prosecution and let their work speak for itself.

Improving the relationship between criminal defense attorneys and forensic scientists

(Pictured left to right: MSP Lansing Laboratory Supervisor Geoffrey French, criminal defense attorney Barton Morris, Controlled Substances Technical Leader Elizabeth Gormley and Toxicology Technical Leader Nicholas Fillinger)

We also discussed potential improvements suggested for both the division and what the Defense bar can do to improve their relationship with the department. The head of their division, Geoffrey French, was present and actively participating in the discussion as well. He ensured that I felt welcome and appreciated. It was truly a great experience and one that I was very honored to accept.

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As the only ACS-CHAL Forensic Lawyer-Scientist in Michigan, Barton Morris is dedicated to evaluating forensic evidence. Hiring a lawyer with extensive forensic knowledge possessed a significant advantage during the trial process.