Catching drug dealers may be easier than prosecuting them. A 2009 Supreme Court ruling in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts requires court testimony from chemists performing the test on suspected drug evidence.  In the 5 – 4 ruling, the Court maintains that the defendant has a right under the 6th Amendment to “face his accuser.”  As a result, state labs throughout the country are so back-logged that these requests can impede the right to a speedy trial.  Prosecutors can be caught in a Catch-22 situation.

Enter TruNarc, developed by Waltham, MA-based Thermo Fisher Scientific Inc.  This compact device is about the same size as a typical Garmin or Tom-Tom GPS receiver.  However, it is much more sophisticated than a mere navigation device.  A small laser incorporated into the machine can peer through plastic packaging (preventing evidence contamination), excite each chemical compound and, using Raman spectroscopy, measures the chemical’s frequency, comparing it to an onboard library of chemical “finger prints.”  A precise analysis of the sample is displayed to the operator within 10 – 15 seconds.

The Quincy, MA Police Department is field testing the Tru-Narc with hopes that it can replace the chemical field kits in use for decades by officers worldwide.  One advantage besides the lack of potential contamination of the suspect substance is the non-destructive nature of the test.  Because the device works on laser light, it can be repeated over and over again without losing any evidence.  Conceivably, the test could be repeated from the witness stand in court by a trained police officer.

Bruce Bremer, MBA is LET’s technology contributor.  Bruce retired from the Submarine Service after 21 years of in-depth experience with complex electronic technology.  Since then, he has been involved in fleet modernization and military research analysis. He teaches electronics and alternative energy at at a Virginia college. Besides his MBA, Bruce earned a Bachelor of Science degree in computer networking.  He has been volunteering in public safety for many years.

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