Bullcoming v. New Mexico

The Facts

Defendant was arrested and charged with DWI. The principal evidence against him was a forensic laboratory report based on machine test results certifying that his blood alcohol content (BAC) was above the legal limit. At trial, the prosecution did not call as a witness the analyst who signed the certification, but only another analyst who was familiar with the lab’s testing procedures, but did not participate in or observe the tests on defendant’s blood sample.

Procedural History

The New Mexico Supreme Court held that the BAC analysis was “testimonial” evidence, but that the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront the witness against him did not require the certifying analyst’s in-court testimony.  The other analyst’s testimony sufficed.

The Issue

Does the Confrontation Clause permit the introduction of a forensic laboratory report containing a testimonial certification (made for the purpose of proving a particular fact) through the surrogate in-court testimony of an analyst who did not sign the certification or perform or observe the reported test?

The Rule

The Confrontation Clause grants the accused the right to cross-examine the forensic analyst who actually certified a report used against him, unless that analyst is unavailable at trial and the accused had an opportunity to cross-examine him before trial.

The Holding / Disposition

The Court reversed the decision of the Supreme Court of New Mexico, holding that the surrogate testimony of the non-certifying analyst did not satisfy the Confrontation Clause.

Court’s Reasoning

The certifying analyst not only identified a machine-generated number, but made several representations as to the validity and integrity of the defendant’s blood sample in his certification. In any event, the seemingly high reliability of out-of-court testimonial statements does not dispense with the Confrontation Clause, which requires that reliability be assessed in a particular manner: by “testing the evidence in the crucible of cross-examination.”  The surrogate testimony of the other analyst was inadequate because he did not have any direct  knowledge of the specific events described in the certification, i.e., defendant’s BAC test and the testing procedures used.

The Court also rejected the State’s argument that the certification was not testimonial in character.  The certification contained an affirmation made in aid of a police investigation for the purpose of proving some fact (defendant’s BAC), and was therefore testimonial.

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