Confrontation Clause Cases (Part 4)

by | May 1, 2024 | Blog, Criminal Law, Monmouth County, New Jersey, Ocean County

Justice Ginsburg continued in relevant part: The comparative reliability of an analyst’s testimonial report does not dispense with the Clause. The analysts who write reports introduced as evidence must be made available for confrontation even if they have “the scientific acumen of Mme. Curie and the veracity of Mother Teresa.”

Nor was Razatos an adequate substitute witness simply because he qualified as an expert with respect to the testing machine and SLD’s laboratory procedures. Surrogate testimony of the kind Razatos was equipped to give could not convey what Caylor knew or observed about the events he certified, nor expose any lapses or lies on Caylor’s part. Significantly, Razatos did not know why Caylor had been placed on unpaid leave. With Caylor on the stand, Bullcoming’s counsel could have asked Caylor questions designed to reveal whether Caylor’s incompetence, evasiveness, or dishonesty accounted for his removal from work.

And the State did not assert that Razatos had any independent opinion concerning Bullcoming’s blood alcohol content. More fundamentally, the Confrontation Clause does not tolerate dispensing with confrontation simply because the court believes that questioning one witness about another’s testimonial statements provides a fair enough opportunity for cross-examination. Although the purpose of Sixth Amendment rights is to ensure a fair trial, it does not follow that such rights can be disregarded because, overall, the trial is fair. If a “particular guarantee” is violated, no substitute procedure can cure the violation.

Melendez-Diaz precluded the State’s argument that introduction of the SLD report did not implicate the Confrontation Clause because the report is nontestimonial. Like the certificates in Melendez-Diaz, the SLD report is undoubtedly an “affirmation made for the purpose of establishing or proving some fact” in a criminal proceeding. Created solely for an “evidentiary purpose,” the report ranks as testimonial. In all material respects, the SLD report resembles the certificates in Melendez-Diaz. Here, as there, an officer provided seized evidence to a state laboratory required by law to assist in police investigations. Like the Melendez-Diaz analysts, Caylor tested the evidence and prepared a certificate concerning the result of his analysis. And like the Melendez-Diaz certificates, Caylor’s report here is “formalized” in a signed document. Also noteworthy, the SLD report form contains a legend referring to municipal and magistrate courts’ rules that provide for the admission of certified blood-alcohol analyses. Thus, although the SLD report was not notarized, the formalities attending the report were more than adequate to qualify Caylor’s assertions as testimonial.

Justice Ginsburg provides an additional roadmap regarding cross-examination topics regarding incompetence, evasiveness, and dishonesty. Regarding dishonesty, it is difficult to believe that the substitute witness who worked in the same lab as the absent witness who was placed on unpaid leave did not know the reason(s) for it.