Confrontation Clause Cases (Part 1)

by | Apr 26, 2024 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The following cases all address the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause. They are particularly relevant to cases in which the prosecution seeks to admit the results of laboratory testing. This is common in cases of alleged “drug driving: in which a urine and/or blood sample was tested to provide evidence of intoxication: Bullcoming v. New Mexico, 131 S.Ct. 2705 (2011); Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 129 S.Ct. 2527 (2009), Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004); Davis v. Washington, 547 U.S. 813 (2006), State v. Renshaw, 390 N.J. Super. 456 (App. Div. 2007), and State v. Kent, 391 N.J. Super. 352 (App. Div. 2007).

In Bullcoming v. New Mexico, the United States Supreme Court held in relevant part: The Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause gives the accused “in all criminal prosecutions, the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” In Crawford v. Washington, this Court held that the Clause permits admission of “testimonial statements of witnesses absent from trial only where the declarant is unavailable, and only where the defendant has had a prior opportunity to cross-examine.” Later, in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, the Court declined to create a “forensic evidence” exception to Crawford, holding that a forensic laboratory report, created specifically to serve as evidence in a criminal proceeding, ranked as “testimonial” for Confrontation Clause purposes. Absent stipulation, the Court ruled, the prosecution may not introduce such a report without offering a live witness competent to testify to the truth of the report’s statements.

Petitioner Bullcoming’s jury trial on charges of driving while intoxicated (DWI) occurred after Crawford, but before Melendez-Diaz. Principal evidence against him was a forensic laboratory report certifying that his blood-alcohol concentration was well above the threshold for aggravated DWI. Bullcoming’s blood sample had been tested at the New Mexico Department of Health, Scientific Laboratory Division (SLD), by a forensic analyst named Caylor, who completed, signed, and certified the report. However, the prosecution neither called Caylor to testify nor asserted he was unavailable; the record showed only that Caylor was placed on unpaid leave for an undisclosed reason.

The forensic analyst’s being placed on unpaid leave provides reason to require his live testimony. If he was placed on leave due to misconduct that touched upon his job and the credibility of the forensic evidence, that would be an important issue at trial for which he should be questioned under oath.