Confrontation Clause Cases (Part 31)

by | Jun 24, 2024 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Even though the defendant suggests innocent connotations for each of these factors individually, “it is not fatal to the State’s case that these, or other speculative circumstances, permit of some other rational explanation of defendant’s conduct or fail to exclude every other conceivable hypothesis except guilt.” State v. Brown (1979). What is required is that all the evidence combined leaves the factfinder “firmly convinced” of the defendant’s guilt. State v. Medina (1996). This Court finds that the combination of the defendant’s admissions, the physical indicia of intoxication he displayed, as well as his hostile behavior towards the police officer in the hospital establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that he was under the influence of alcohol when he drove his car off the road. Accordingly, this Court finds the defendant guilty, de novo, of driving while intoxicated in violation of the subjective prong of N.J.S.A. 39:4-50. Consequently, defendant’s conviction was affirmed in the Law Division. This appeal followed.

Defendant’s main argument on appeal is that the trial judge unconstitutionally admitted into evidence the State Police laboratory report and related worksheets, as well as the hospital employee’s blood sample certificate, thereby depriving him of his rights of confrontation under the Federal and state Constitutions. Defendant hinges that argument upon the United States Supreme Court’s seminal opinion in Crawford, declaring that so-called “testimonial” hearsay statements may not be admitted against an accused, unless the declarant of each such statement is unavailable for trial, and the accused had a prior opportunity for cross-examination of the declarant concerning the statement.

As we have previously recognized, see State v. Buda (App. Div. 2006), the Supreme Court’s re-interpretation of the Confrontation Clause in Crawford overruled long-standing prior case law and has greatly affected the admissibility of hearsay declarations in criminal prosecutions. From 1980 through the issuance of Crawford in 2004, our nation’s highest Court construed the Confrontation Clause to permit out-of-court statements to be admitted for their truth against an accused, provided that those statements were based upon “firmly rooted” hearsay exceptions, or which otherwise had “particularized guarantees of trustworthiness.” See Ohio v. Roberts (1980). To restore the Clause’s presumed original meaning intended by the Framers of the Bill of Rights, Crawford rejected the two-part Roberts test. In its place, Crawford declared that out-of-court declarations, no matter how reliable they may be and regardless of whether they satisfy an established exception under the hearsay rules, would not be admissible for their truth in criminal prosecutions if they are “testimonial” in nature.

Since Roberts was binding law for 24 years, it is conceivable that the United States Supreme Court might consider a case that could lead the Court to readopt it. Our nationwide backlog of criminal cases is a factor that motivates our courts to make prosecutions less burdensome on the State.