State v. Ward, 364 N.C. 133 (Jun. 17, 2010)

In a drug case, the trial court abused its discretion by allowing the State’s expert in chemical analyses of drugs and forensic chemistry to identify the pills at issue as controlled substances when the expert’s method of making that identification consisted of a visual inspection and comparison with information in Micromedex literature, a publication used by doctors in hospitals and pharmacies to identify prescription medicines. The court concluded that the expert’s proffered method of proof was not sufficiently reliable under the first prong of the Howerton/Goode analysis. It concluded: “Unless the State establishes before the trial court that another method of identification is sufficient to establish the identity of the controlled substance beyond a reasonable doubt, some form of scientifically valid chemical analysis is required.” The court limited its holding to Rule 702 and stated that it “does not affect visual identification techniques employed by law enforcement for other purposes, such as conducting criminal investigations.” Finally, the court indicated that “common sense limits this holding regarding the scope of the chemical analysis that must be performed.” It noted that in the case at issue, the State submitted sixteen batches of over four hundred tablets to the laboratory, and that “a chemical analysis of each individual tablet is not necessary.” In this regard, the court reasoned that the “SBI maintains standard operating procedures for chemically analyzing batches of evidence, and the propriety of those procedures is not at issue here. A chemical analysis is required in this context, but its scope may be dictated by whatever sample is sufficient to make a reliable determination of the chemical composition of the batch of evidence under consideration.”