Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Court deems lab reports inadmissible

While standing trial for possession with intent to distribute narcotics, Ronald Johnson objected to the admission of lab reports attesting to the weight of the drugs and to testimony from a supervisor about the contents of the reports in the absence of the lab techs who wrote the report.

The trial court, finding no harm in allowing a witness to parrot the information contained in a lab report written by someone else regarding tests performed by another person, allowed the reports to be entered into evidence and allowed the supervisor to testify to the contents of the reports. Surprisingly enough, Mr. Johnson was convicted.

On appeal (Johnson v. State, No. 09049F (Tex.App.--Dallas, 2011) Mr. Johnson argued that the trial court's decision violated his 6th Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him. The state argued that even if the reports were inadmissible, an expert witness may base his testimony on inadmissible hearsay.

In dismissing the state's contention that the supervisor's testimony was admissible, the court stated that while it was permissible for an expert base his expert opinion on inadmissible hearsay, it was not kosher for a person to act as "little more than a conduit for...testimonial hearsay."

The court found that the reports were testimonial in nature and that Mr. Johnson had not been afforded the opportunity to cross examine either the author or the person who performed the tests. Since the court found the evidence violated Mr. Johnson's 6th Amendment right to confrontation, the court:

should consider several factors: (1) The importance of the hearsay statements to the State's case; (2) Whether the hearsay evidence was cumulative of other evidence; (3) The presence or absence of evidence corroborating or contradicting the hearsay testimony on material points; and (4) The overall strength of the prosecution's case.

Having found that the state's case rested entirely on the reports in question, the court reversed the conviction.

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