Richland woman seeks lab documents in vehicular homicide case

Tri-City HeraldMarch 26, 2014 

Natalie Lincoln Hearing

File photo: Natalie Lincoln appears for a hearing last month in Benton County Superior Court in Kennewick. The Richland woman is accused of killing Steven S. Covert, 50, of West Richland June 11 in a traffic accident while under the influence.

BOB BRAWDY — Tri-City Herald Buy Photo

A Richland woman accused of killing a man in a traffic accident while under the influence will have to pay half the cost of obtaining documentation on a blood test that came back positive for a muscle relaxant.

Benton County Superior Court Judge Cameron Mitchell ruled during a Wednesday hearing that Natalie Michelle Lincoln’s defense and the Benton County Prosecutor’s Office will split the estimated $300 expense of receiving testing notes and technology certifications from the private Pennsylvania lab that conducted the test.

Lincoln is charged with vehicular homicide in the death of Steven S. Covert, 50, of West Richland.

Defense attorney Scott Johnson said it is inappropriate for his client to pay for the information, as the testing was done by someone on behalf of the state.

The information may not have an effect on the case but requiring a defendant to pay for the information being used to convict them sets a bad precedent, he said.

“(The prosecutor) could send everything to a private lab, not use the state lab and make defense pay for everything,” Johnson said.

Prosecutor Terry Bloor said his office had recently offered to split the cost to receive the information from the lab. The state crime lab does not have a test for muscle relaxants so sought out the private lab and the state showed the same drug in Lincoln’s system that she told police she took before driving.

“It wasn’t like the state patrol was shopping for a lab and the results weren’t surprising,” Bloor said.

Lincoln was driving from West Richland to Richland the night of June 11 when she struck the car driven by Covert. Covert’s car spun around and was struck by another vehicle.

Covert later died at Kadlec Regional Medical Center. His 15-year-old passenger and the other driver, Patricia Ammonet of Richland, were injured and also treated at the hospital.

Lincoln told police she had prescriptions for several drugs and had taken the stimulant adderall, muscle relaxant baclofen and antidepressant citalopram the day of the crash.

Initial blood tests conducted by the state’s crime lab did not reveal any substances in Lincoln’s blood, Johnson said. When he learned his client’s samples were sent on to the private lab for further testing, he requested notes taken by the technician during testing and certifications of the lab’s equipment.

“While the state give us the results, we have to know how they reached the result or how the lab reached the result,” Johnson said.

The prosecutor’s office first told the defense it would have to shoulder the full cost of getting the documents from the private lab, at a cost of $75 an hour, before eventually suggesting a split in the costs, Johnson said. But the lab acting on the state’s means its information is subject to the same discovery rules as other evidence, he said, something a defendant doesn’t pay for.

Bloor said he doesn’t intend to bring up the testing process or lab equipment at trial. The prosecutor’s office also didn’t contract with the private lab for the test and doesn’t have control of the information Johnson wants.

“I don’t think we have total burden here,” Bloor said. “We don’t have any burden under the rule.”

Mitchell said that while the state lab sought the extra tests, the prosecutor’s office didn’t control the process and it was “an unwarranted stretch that any time the state seeks a third party, that makes them a state agent.”

However, notes taken by a technician during the testing process will likely be needed during trial should they be questioned, Mitchell added.

“I think the offer to split the cost is a reasonable offer,” the judge said.

The ruling could possibly delay Lincoln’s April 21 trial. The defense and prosecutor were scheduled to go over other matters during Wednesday’s hearing ahead of a pre-trial hearing on April 10. Johnson said he needs the lab information before proceeding and there’s an indication that it could take some time to get it.

Mitchell agreed to put the rest of the day’s matters off until the April 10 meeting, but did not reschedule pre-trial hearing or the trial.

Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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