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Court Enforces Confrontation Clause in Bullcoming v. New Mexico

This summer, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Bullcoming v. New Mexico, the latest of a series in cases dealing with the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. By a 5-4 vote, the Court held in Bullcoming that it is a Confrontation Clause violation to admit a forensic lab report into evidence that includes testimonial assertions through the in-court testimony of an analyst who did not sign the report or personally witness the test.

Facts of the Case

Police accused the defendant in the case, David Bullcoming, of aggravated drunk driving after he ran into the back of another vehicle and then left the scene of the accident. Lab results showed Bullcoming's blood alcohol content to be three times the legal limit. When Bullcoming's trial began, the lab analyst who had performed Bullcoming's BAC test was on unpaid leave, so the prosecutor asked a different lab analyst to testify about the test so that the report would be admitted into evidence.

The Court held that the analyst who conducted the test needs to be the one to testify. The majority reasoned that an analyst who had not conducted or personally observed the test at issue could have no way of knowing about any discrepancies that occurred during the test or any "lapses or lies" on the part of the analyst who prepared the report. Even if the substitute analyst had the technical and scientific competency to discuss how the test should have gone, he or she would not have known if the analyst who ran the test followed that procedure.

Implications of the Decision for Criminal Defendants

With its decision in Bullcoming, the Court reaffirmed that the Sixth Amendment means what it says: if the state wishes to introduce the testimony of a witness against the defendant, the defendant has the right to cross examine that witness. If the testimony happens to be in the form of a report, the state must produce the author of the report. This means that those facing criminal charges have the right to demand that the lab analyst who performed the tests that the state seeks to use take the stand, otherwise the state cannot introduce the reports into evidence.

An Attorney Can Help

If you or someone you love is facing criminal charges, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense lawyer can assess your case and help you protect your rights. For more information, contact an attorney today.