Confrontation Clause Cases (Part 34)

by | Jun 30, 2024 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

The Appellate Division continued in relevant part: In State v. Berezansky, we held that a defendant in a drunk-driving prosecution was similarly denied his constitutional guarantee of confrontation when a municipal judge admitted a State Police laboratory certificate reflecting that his blood alcohol level exceeded the statutory limits. Applying the tenets of Crawford, we determined in Berezansky that the laboratory documents were inadmissible, absent confrontation, because they were “prepared specifically in order to prove an element of the DWI charge and offered in lieu of producing the qualified individual who actually performed the test.” Because the defendant in Berezansky had objected to the admission of the lab reports, invoking his confrontation rights, we reversed his conviction and remanded for a new trial.  We noted that the prosecution on remand could not rely upon the lab reports unless it produced a trial witness “to testify on personal knowledge of the testing and the preparation of the lab certificate.”

Twelve days after our opinion in Berezansky, the United States Supreme Court decided Davis v. Washington, a case which fortifies the soundness of our application of the prevailing Confrontation Clause jurisprudence. As we noted, Davis treats as “testimonial” hearsay statements made during police interrogation “when the circumstances objectively indicate that there is no ongoing emergency, and the primary purpose of the interrogation is to establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution.”

Here, there was no “ongoing emergency” when the State Police laboratory chemists analyzed defendant’s blood. Nor can it reasonably be argued that the “primary purpose” of the lab certificate was anything other than to prove past events, specifically defendant’s blood alcohol concentration, relevant to his DWI prosecution. Indeed, the county prosecutor’s brief on appeal initially conceded that Berezansky applies and mandates the exclusion of the laboratory reports in the absence of a testifying witness who would be cross-examined about the document.

The reference to the county prosecutor’s brief refers to the brief that was filed with the Law Division in response to the municipal appeal. The State later changed their position when arguing the instant appeal before the Appellate Division.