Seattle Municipal Court Judges Issue En Banc Ruling in Response to Washington State Toxicology Lab Methamphetamine Contamination Motion

Seattle Municipal Court (SMC) judges have ruled that the court will suppress all blood toxicology results for amphetamine and methamphetamine if the tests were conducted by the Washington State Toxicology Lab (“Tox Lab”) in its Main Lab or the Annex between March 2018 and October 2021. This ruling (PDF) does not affect tests for alcohol or any other drug.

Having determined this to be an issue of citywide significance pursuant to SMC Local Rule 8.2.4, the court held an en banc hearing on behalf of three cases: City of Seattle v. Christopher Markham, City of Seattle v. Paul Winters, and City of Seattle v. Erica Neace. The motion was heard on January 12-14, 2022, by the Hon. Adam Eisenberg, the Hon. Anita Crawford-Willis, the Hon. Andrea Chin, and the Hon. Catherine McDowall.

The defendants asked the four-judge panel to dismiss their cases on a number of legal grounds, including dismissal under Criminal Rule for Courts of Limited Jurisdiction 8.3(b). The panel denied the motion to dismiss, but granted defendants’ motion to suppress the amphetamine and methamphetamine positive results in their cases. In addition, the panel concluded that any positive amphetamine or methamphetamine results from the period of March 2018 through October 2021 will be suppressed if the testing occurred in the Main Lab or the Annex.

The court granted the suppression motion due to allegations of possible methamphetamine contamination in the Main Lab and the Annex. The court ruled that, given evidence of contamination, continued testing in the Main Lab from June 2019 to October 28, 2021 constituted mismanagement on the part of the Tox Lab. During the time frame in question, the Tox Lab reported only 12 discrepant test results out of thousands of tests conducted. No root cause for the contamination in the lab was identified.

The court also found mismanagement when the Tox Lab failed to disclose in a timely manner contamination concerns to prosecutors and defense attorneys as required under Brady v. Maryland and other cases. The Tox Lab did not disclose the potential contamination to any affected litigants until August 7, 2020.

However, the court concluded that CrRLJ 8.3(b) does not warrant dismissal of the three defendants’ cases, because the defendants did not demonstrate prejudice as required by the rule.

Further, the court found that while lab contamination created a possibility of false positive test results for amphetamine and methamphetamine, there was no evidence to suggest the Tox Lab results for other drugs such as alcohol were unreliable.

Although the court denied the defendants’ motions to dismiss their cases, the court granted defendants’ motion to suppress amphetamine and methamphetamine blood results in these three cases. The order was signed February 10, 2022.

The en banc ruling will also result in the suppression of blood toxicology tests related to amphetamine and methamphetamine in other Seattle Municipal Court cases. It is unclear how many tests will be affected by this ruling. Cases will be identified by prosecutors and defense attorneys on a case-by-case basis.

Read the full order on the court’s website.