Confrontation Clause Cases (Part 29)

by | Jun 20, 2024 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Court continued in relevant part: After being supplied with the defense expert’s report, the municipal prosecutor stipulated to its admission. The prosecutor also stipulated that the State could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that defendant’s blood alcohol concentration exceeded 0.10%. That concession signified that defendant could only be convicted of a so-called “Tier One” first-time DWI offense (prohibiting driving with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08% or higher), rather than face more severe penalties for a 0.10% or higher BAC. Defendant therefore moved Dr. Lage’s expert report, Exhibit D-1, into evidence and did not call Dr. Lage.

In summation, defendant argued that his inability to cross-examine the respective hearsay declarants who had authored the blood sample certification and the State Police laboratory records violated his Sixth Amendment right of confrontation under the standards of Crawford. Defendant separately contended that the field observations of Officer Knepper did not suffice to support a DWI conviction. Among other things, defendant stressed that Officer Knepper had not witnessed the accident, and that his observations of defendant’s bloodshot eyes, mussed clothing, slurred speech, and slow gait were all explainable because of either late-night fatigue or the after-effects of an accident.

The prosecutor argued, in response, that the State’s forensic proofs had all been properly admitted into evidence. Moreover, the prosecutor contended that the officer’s field observations of defendant following this single-car rollover accident on apparently dry pavement, coupled with defendant’s own voluntary admission that he drank at least five beers that evening, amply proved defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

After considering all these matters, the municipal judge convicted defendant of a first-time DWI offense, merging into that conviction a separate traffic summons which defendant had been issued charging him with careless driving. The judge sentenced defendant to serve twelve hours in the Intoxicated Driver Resource Center (IDRC). He also imposed a three-month suspension of defendant’s driving privileges, plus various monetary fines, penalties, and costs. Defendant’s sentence was stayed pending appeal.

The prosecutor’s decision to stipulate to the admission of the defense expert’s report provided the defense with the benefit of an acquittal on the more serious DWI charge. It also provided the prosecution with two potential benefits. First, by stipulating to the admission of the report without requiring live testimony from the defense expert, it made the admission of the prosecution’s hearsay testimony appear more reasonable. It also made an appeal by the defense less likely. The prosecution would naturally be concerned with an appeal that could lead to caselaw that would require live testimony by the prosecution’s lab witnesses in future case.