Thursday, June 23, 2011

Author, author

David Bullcoming was arrested for driving while intoxicated after being involved in an automobile accident in Farmington, New Mexico. The driver of the other car noted that Mr. Bullcoming smelled of alcohol and had his wife call the police. Mr. Bullcoming left the scene but was stopped shortly thereafter. The arresting officer said he failed the roadside exercises and placed him under arrest.

After Mr. Bullcoming decided not to blow into the breath test machine, police obtained a search warrant allowing for a forcible blood draw. That blood specimen was tested by the New Mexico Department of Health's Scientific Laboratory Division (SLD). Curtis Caylor tested the sample which had an alcohol concentration of 0.21 grams per 100 milliliters, and wrote a report in which he certified that the test was conducted properly. As a result, Mr. Bullcoming was charged with aggravated DWI (BAC over 0.16).

At trial the prosecutor announced that Mr. Caylor would not be testifying because he had been placed on unpaid leave and that another analyst would testify as to the test result. Defense counsel objected on the grounds that Mr. Bullcoming's right to confront the analyst who conducted the test was being violated. The trial court didn't see it that way, overruled his objection and allowed the lab report into evidence as a business record.

On appeal the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Bullcoming's confrontation rights under Crawford weren't denied because Mr. Caylor was just the person who wrote down the test result. The Court held that the analyst called to testify was also an expert in gas chromatography and was qualified to testify as to the results of the test.

The US Supreme Court took the case to determine whether or not the state can introduce a lab report that is testimonial in nature through the testimony of an analyst who neither conducted the test nor authored the report.

The answer is no.

As a rule, if an out-of-court statement is testi­monial  in  nature, it may not be introduced against the accused at trial unless the witness who made the state­ment is unavailable and the accused has had a prior op­portunity to confront that witness.   Because the New Mexico Supreme Court permitted the testimonial state­ment of one witness,  i.e., Caylor, to enter into evidence through the in-court testimony of a second person,  i.e., Razatos, we reverse that court’s judgment.  -- Bullcoming v. New Mexico, 564 US ___ (2011)

In making its decision, the Court looked at the contents of the report written by Mr. Caylor. The report contained more than just a test result. The report indicated the steps Mr. Caylor took in testing the sample. The report indicated the condition of the sample before the test was conducted. Since the report contained information that only the person conducting the test could know, Mr. Bullcoming had the right to confront the analyst was conducted the test. Denying Mr. Bullcoming the opportunity to cross examine Mr. Caylor deprived Mr. Bullcoming of his right of confrontation under the Sixth Amendment.

The Court also shot down New Mexico's argument that the lab report was nontestimonial.

A document created solely for an “evidentiary pur­pose,”  Melendez-Diaz  clarified, made in aid of a police investigation, ranks as testimonial. -- Bullcoming

Lab reports are not just business records, they are testimonial documents and defendants have the right under Crawford and Melendez-Diaz to confront the authors of the lab reports. The failure of the state to make the analysts available is a violation of a criminal defendant's rights under the Sixth Amendment.

No comments: