Thursday, July 15, 2010

Just Take My Word For It

The U.S. Supreme Court recently held in Meledez-Diaz v. Massachusetts that under the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment, crime lab analysts that conduct testing and prepare certificates (affidavits) regarding the contraband nature of a substance are “witnesses” and the defendant must be afforded an opportunity to confront them in court. This ended the State’s longtime practice of simply offering an affidavit from the crime lab to prove that the substance seized was, in fact, cocaine (or any form of contraband).

Similarly, the 2nd District Court of Appeals (Fort Worth) recently had the occasion to consider whether the admission of intoxilyzer maintenance records and breath test results (in a post-Melendez-Diaz world) violated the defendant’s right to confront the witnesses against him as provided in the Sixth Amendment. In Settlemire v. State, the technical supervisor of the intoxilyzer machine testified at trial to authenticate and breath test, but she was not the actual supervisor at the time of the test and she was not the technician who performed the test on the defendant.

Not surprisingly, the 2nd Court held that the supervisor’s testimony satisfied the Supreme Court’s mandate in Melendez-Diaz. In a brief opinion that was short on analysis, Justice Bleil quoted directly from Melendez-Diaz, wherein the Court explained:

[W]e do not hold, and it is not the case, that anyone whose testimony may be relevant in establishing the chain of custody, authenticity of the sample, or accuracy of the testing device, must appear in person as part of the prosecution’s case. . . . Additionally, documents prepared in the regular course of equipment maintenance may well qualify as nontestimonial records.
The opinion went on to state that the technical supervisor of the machine, who testified about the intoxilyzer’s status (although she did not supervise at the time of the defendant’s test) “is precisely the type of analyst that the Court anticipated might be challenged based on its holding in Melendez-Diaz.”