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U.S. Supreme Court rules that certificates of State Lab Analyst violate the right to confrontation

The U.S. Supreme Court has dealt a blow to the infamous paper witness.  Paper is impossible to cross-examine, so when paper documents are legislated admissible in court it is burden-shifting and requires the Defense to hire an expert to rebut the paper witness.

It is unclear how far Georgia Courts will allow this case precedent to spread but it appears that certainly Georgia DUI crime lab reports, Georgia DUI certificates of inspection of state breath tests, and possible the dreaded Georgia DUI Intoxilyzer 5000 breath strip and infamous source code may be in jeopardy, but what do I know I’m just an Atlanta DUI lawyer.

certiorari to the appeals court of Massachusetts

No. 07–591. Argued November 10, 2008—Decided June 25, 2009

At the petitioner’s state-court drug trial, the prosecution introduced certificates of state laboratory analysts stating that material seized by police and connected to the petitioner was cocaine of a certain quantity. As required by Massachusetts law, the certificates were sworn to before a notary public and were submitted as prima facie evidence of what they asserted. Petitioner objected, asserting that Crawford v. Washington, 541 U. S. 36, required the analysts to testify in person. The trial court disagreed, the certificates were admitted, and the petitioner was convicted. The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed, rejecting the petitioner’s claim that the certificates’ admission violated the Sixth Amendment.

Held: The admission of the certificates violated the petitioner’s Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him. Pp. 3–23.

(a)  Under Crawford, a witness’s testimony against a defendant is inadmissible unless the witness appears at trial or, if the witness is unavailable, the defendant had a prior opportunity for cross-examination. 541 U. S., at 54. The certificates here are affidavits, which fall within the “core class of testimonial statements” covered by the Confrontation Clause, id., at 51. They asserted that the substance found in petitioner’s possession was, as the prosecution claimed, cocaine of a certain weight—the precise testimony the analysts would be expected to provide if called at trial. Not only were the certificates made, as Crawford required for testimonial statements, “under circumstances which would lead an objective witness reasonably to believe that the statement would be available for use at a later trial,” id., at 52, but under the relevant Massachusetts law, their sole purpose was to provide prima facie evidence of the substance’s composition, quality, and net weight. Petitioner was entitled to “be confronted with” the persons giving this testimony at trial. Id., at 54. Pp. 3–5.

(b) The arguments advanced to avoid this rather straightforward application of Crawford are rejected. Respondent’s claim that the analysts are not subject to confrontation because they are not “accusatory” witnesses finds no support in the Sixth Amendment’s text or this Court’s case law. The affiants’ testimonial statements were not “nearly contemporaneous” with their observations, nor, if they had been, would that fact alter the statements’ testimonial character. There is no support for the proposition that witnesses who testify regarding facts other than those observed at the crime scene are exempt from confrontation. The absence of interrogation is irrelevant; a witness who volunteers his testimony is no less a witness for Sixth Amendment purposes. The affidavits do not qualify as traditional official or business records. The argument that the analysts should not be subject to confrontation because their statements result from neutral scientific testing is little more than an invitation to return to the since-overruled decision in Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U. S. 56, which held that evidence with “particularized guarantees of trustworthiness” was admissible without confrontation. Petitioner’s power to subpoena the analysts is no substitute for the right of confrontation. Finally, the requirements of the Confrontation Clause may not be relaxed because they make the prosecution’s task burdensome. In any event, the practice in many States already accords with today’s decision, and the serious disruption predicted by the respondent and the dissent has not materialized. Pp. 5–23.

69 Mass. App. 1114, 870 N. E. 2d 676, reversed and remanded.

Scalia, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Stevens, Souter, Thomas, and Ginsburg, JJ., joined. Thomas, J., filed a concurring opinion. Kennedy, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which Roberts, C. J., and Breyer and Alito, JJ., joined.