The United States Supreme Court Thursday ruled in favor of a man who appealed his drunk driving conviction because the prosecutor violated the defendant’s constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him. In the original trial on the DWI charges the prosecutor relied on a lab report that alleged the man’s blood alcohol level was above the state’s legal limit.
The prosecutor called a supervisor from the crime lab to testify regarding the results shown on the lab report. The supervisor had not personally conducted the laboratory tests. A separate lab technician had conducted the DWI blood test sample analysis and signed the lab report. The prosecutor said the original analyst was on unpaid leave, without offering any further information.
At trial, the DWI defense objected to the supervisor’s testimony and the results alleged in the lab report on Sixth Amendment grounds. The trial judge overruled the objection and allowed the testimony and lab report. The jury convicted the defendant of driving while impaired.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the majority of the Supreme Court, says the surrogate testimony of the lab supervisor could not convey what the original lab analyst knew about the testing procedure at the time the tests were actually conducted. Ginsburg writes, “The Sixth Amendment does not tolerate dispensing with confrontation simply because a court believes that questioning one witness about another’s testimonial statements provides a fair enough opportunity for cross-examination.”
Justice Kennedy offered his dissent, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, and Justices Samuel Alito and Stephen Breyer. Kennedy writes, “In these circumstances, requiring the state to call the technician who filled out a form and recorded the results of a test is a hollow formality,”
Source: AP via Fox News, “Court says lab analyst must testify to own work,” 23 Jun 2011