Confrontation Clause Cases (Part 33)

by | Jun 28, 2024 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The three-judge panel continued: We also note that the Sixth Amendment’s confrontation guarantee has been deemed applicable to state courts for several decades through the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.  See Pointer v. Texas (1961). For these reasons, we sustain the Law Division’s initial premise that the Confrontation Clause of the Federal Constitution, and Crawford’s testimonial/non-testimonial standards of admissibility, apply to this case, and to others similarly situated.

We now turn to the substantive application of Crawford as clarified in Davis to the two forms of hearsay documents which are at issue on this appeal: (1) the State Police laboratory reports analyzing defendant’s blood alcohol concentrations and (2) the private hospital employee’s blood sample certificate. We address these items separately.

The State Police laboratory report authored by the forensic scientist, Joseph Messana, was classified by the municipal judge and by the Law Division judge as a “business record” under the hearsay exception of N.J.R.E. 803(c)(6). Defendant does not contest the applicability of this exception, although we perceive that the document might also fit, and perhaps more logically so, under the hearsay exception for public records under N.J.R.E. 803(c)(8). See State v. Matulewicz (1985) (recognizing that a State Police chemist’s laboratory report identifying a controlled dangerous substance may be admitted, in proper circumstances, as either a business record or a public record under former Evid. R. 63(13) and 63(15)(a)).

Defendant does not challenge the authenticity of the State Police laboratory reports, or the regularity of their maintenance. However, defendant does raise concerns about several perceived discrepancies in the documents, including such aspects as their failure to specify which technicians performed which elements of the testing, the true identities of the technicians identified only by initials, and alleged disparities between the laboratory certificate and the associated worksheets. Defendant argues that these documents are testimonial in nature, and that he was entitled to probe into the potential discrepancies within them through cross-examination of the person or persons who prepared them.

Even without the discrepancies, the State should be required to present live testimony under the circumstances. Oftentimes, what appear to be air tight reports will still unravel during cross-examination.