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Bullcoming v. New Mexico

June 23, 2011

DONALD BULLCOMING, PETITIONER
v.
NEW MEXICO



ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE SUPREME COURT OF NEW MEXICO Court Below: 147 N.M. 487, 226 P.3d 1

SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

OCTOBER TERM, 2010

Argued March 2, 2011

The Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause gives the accused "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, . . . the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him." In Crawford v. Washington, 541 U. S. 36, 59, this Court held that the Clause permits admission of "[t]estimonial statements of witnesses absent from trial . . . only where the declarant is unavailable, and only where the defendant has had a prior opportunity to cross-examine." Later, in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U. S. ___, the Court declined to create a "forensic evidence" exception to Crawford, holding that a forensic laboratory report, created specifically to serve as evidence in a criminal proceeding, ranked as "testimonial" for Confrontation Clause purposes. Absent stipulation, the Court ruled, the prosecution may not introduce such a report without offering a live witness competent to testify to the truth of the report's statements. 557 U. S., at ___.

Petitioner Bullcoming's jury trial on charges of driving while intoxicated (DWI) occurred after Crawford, but before Melendez-Diaz. Principal evidence against him was a forensic laboratory report certifying that his blood-alcohol concentration was well above the threshold for aggravated DWI. Bullcoming's blood sample had been tested at the New Mexico Department of Health, Scientific Laboratory Division (SLD), by a forensic analyst named Caylor, who completed, signed, and certified the report. However, the prosecution neither called Caylor to testify nor asserted he was unavailable; the record showed only that Caylor was placed on unpaid leave for an undis-closed reason. In lieu of Caylor, the State called another analyst, Razatos, to validate the report. Razatos was familiar with the testing device used to analyze Bullcoming's blood and with the laboratory's testing procedures, but had neither participated in nor observed the test on Bullcoming's blood sample. Bullcoming's counsel objected, asserting that introduction of Caylor's report without his testimony would violate the Confrontation Clause, but the trial court overruled the objection, admitted the SLD report as a business record, and permitted Razatos to testify. Bullcoming was convicted, and, while his appeal was pending before the New Mexico Supreme Court, this Court decided Melendez-Diaz. The state high court acknowledged that the SLD report qualified as testimonial evidence under Melendez-Diaz, but held that the report's admission did not violate the Confrontation Clause because: (1) certifying analyst Caylor was a mere scrivener who simply transcribed machine-generated test results, and (2) SLD analyst Razatos, although he did not participate in testing Bullcoming's blood, qualified as an expert witness with respect to the testing machine and SLD procedures. The court affirmed Bullcoming's conviction.

Held: The judgment is reversed, and the case is remanded.

147 N. M. 487, 226 P. 3d 1, reversed and remanded.

JUSTICE GINSBURG delivered the opinion of the Court with respect to all but Part IV and footnote 6. The Confrontation Clause, the opinion concludes, does not permit the prosecution to introduce a forensic laboratory report containing a testimonial certification, made in order to prove a fact at a criminal trial, through the in-court testimony of an analyst who did not sign the certification or personally perform or observe the performance of the test reported in the certification. The accused's right is to be confronted with the analyst who made the certification, unless that analyst is unavailable at trial, and the accused had an opportunity, pretrial, to cross-examine that particular scientist. Pp. 8--16.

(a) If an out-of-court statement is testimonial, it may not be introduced against the accused at trial unless the witness who made the statement is unavailable and the accused has had a prior opportunity to confront that witness. Pp. 8--14.

(i) Caylor's certification reported more than a machine-generated number: It represented that he received Bullcoming's blood sample intact with the seal unbroken; that he checked to make sure that the forensic report number and the sample number corresponded; that he performed a particular test on Bullcoming's sample, adhering to a precise protocol; and that he left the report's remarks section blank, indicating that no circumstance or condition affected the sample's integrity or the analysis' validity. These representations, relating to past events and human actions not revealed in raw, machine-produced data, are meet for cross-examination. The potential ramifications of the state court's reasoning, therefore, raise red flags. Most witnesses testify to their observations of factual conditions or events. Where, for example, a police officer's report recorded an objective fact such as the read-out of a radar gun, the state court's reasoning would permit another officer to introduce the information, so long as he or she was equipped to testify about the technology the observing officer deployed and the police department's standard operating procedures. As, e.g., Davis v. Washington, The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Ginsburg, except as to Part IV and footnote 6.*fn1

564 U. S. ____ (2011)

Opinion of the Court

In Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U. S. ___ (2009), this Court held that a forensic laboratory report stating that a suspect substance was cocaine ranked as testimonial for purposes of the Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause. The report had been created specifically to serve as evidence in a criminal proceeding. Absent stipulation, the Court ruled, the prosecution may not introduce such a report without offering a live witness competent to testify to the truth of the statements made in the report.

In the case before us, petitioner Donald Bullcoming was arrested on charges of driving while intoxicated (DWI). Principal evidence against Bullcoming was a forensic laboratory report certifying that Bullcoming's bloodalcohol concentration was well above the threshold for aggravated DWI. At trial, the prosecution did not call as a witness the analyst who signed the certification. Instead, the State called another analyst who was familiar with the laboratory's testing procedures, but had neither participated in nor observed the test on Bullcoming's blood sample. The New Mexico Supreme Court determined that, although the blood-alcohol analysis was "testimonial," the Confrontation Clause did not require the certifying analyst's in-court testimony. Instead, New Mexico's high court held, live testimony of another analyst satisfied the constitutional requirements.

The question presented is whether the Confrontation Clause permits the prosecution to introduce a forensic laboratory report containing a testimonial certification- made for the purpose of proving a particular fact-through the in-court testimony of a scientist who did not sign the certification or perform or observe the test reported in the certification. We hold that surrogate testimony of that order does not meet the constitutional requirement. The accused's right is to be confronted with the analyst who made the certification, unless that analyst is unavailable at trial, and the accused had an opportunity, pretrial, to cross-examine that particular scientist.

I.

A.

In August 2005, a vehicle driven by petitioner Donald Bullcoming rear-ended a pick-up truck at an intersection in Farmington, New Mexico. When the truckdriver exited his vehicle and approached Bullcoming to exchange insurance information, he noticed that Bullcoming's eyes were bloodshot. Smelling alcohol on Bullcoming's breath, the truckdriver told his wife to call the police. Bullcoming left the scene before the police arrived, but was soon apprehended by an officer who observed his performance of field sobriety tests. Upon failing the tests, Bullcoming was arrested for driving a vehicle while "under the influence of intoxicating liquor" (DWI), in violation of N. M. Stat. Ann. §66--8--102 (2004).

Because Bullcoming refused to take a breath test, the police obtained a warrant authorizing a blood-alcohol analysis. Pursuant to the warrant, a sample of Bullcoming's blood was drawn at a local hospital. To determine Bullcoming's blood-alcohol concentration (BAC), the police sent the sample to the New Mexico Department of Health, Scientific Laboratory Division (SLD). In a standard SLD form titled "Report of Blood Alcohol Analysis," participants in the testing were identified, and the forensic analyst certified his finding. App. 62.

SLD's report contained in the top block "information . . . filled in by [the] arresting officer." Ibid. (capitalization omitted). This information included the "reason [the] suspect [was] stopped" (the officer checked "Accident"), and the date ("8.14.05") and time ("18:25 PM") the blood sample was drawn. Ibid. (capitalization omitted). The arresting officer also affirmed that he had arrested Bullcoming and witnessed the blood draw. Ibid. The next two blocks contained certifications by the nurse who drew Bullcoming's blood and the SLD intake employee who received the blood sample sent to the laboratory. Ibid.

Following these segments, the report presented the "certificate of analyst," ibid. (capitalization omitted), completed and signed by Curtis Caylor, the SLD forensic analyst assigned to test Bullcoming's blood sample. Id., at 62, 64--65. Caylor recorded that the BAC in Bullcoming's sample was 0.21 grams per hundred milliliters, an inordinately high level. Id., at 62. Caylor also affirmed that "[t]he seal of th[e] sample was received intact and broken in the laboratory," that "the statements in [the analyst's block of the report] are correct," and that he had "followed the procedures set out on the reverse of th[e] report." Ibid. Those "procedures" instructed analysts, inter alia, to "retai[n] the sample container and the raw data from the analysis," and to "not[e] any circumstance or condition which might affect the integrity of the sample or otherwise affect the validity of the analysis." Id., at 65. Finally, in a block headed "certificate of reviewer," the SLD examiner who reviewed Caylor's analysis certified that Caylor was qualified to conduct the BAC test, and that the "established procedure" for handling and analyzing Bullcoming's sample "ha[d] been followed." Id., at 62 (capitalization omitted).

SLD analysts use gas chromatograph machines to determine BAC levels. Operation of the machines requires specialized knowledge and training. Several steps are involved in the gas chromatograph process, and human error can occur at each step.*fn2

Caylor's report that Bullcoming's BAC was 0.21 supported a prosecution for aggravated DWI, the threshold for which is a BAC of 0.16 grams per hundred milliliters, §66-- 8--102(D)(1). The State accordingly charged Bullcoming with this more serious crime.

B.

The case was tried to a jury in November 2005, after our decision in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U. S. 36 (2004), but before Melendez-Diaz. On the day of trial, the State announced that it would not be calling SLD analyst Curtis Caylor as a witness because he had "very recently [been] put on unpaid leave" for a reason not revealed. 2010--NMSC--007, ¶8, 226 P. 3d 1, 6 (internal quotation marks omitted); App. 58. A startled defense counsel objected. The prosecution, she complained, had never disclosed, until trial commenced, that the witness "out there . . . [was] not the analyst [of Bullcoming's sample]." Id., at 46. Counsel stated that, "had [she] known that the analyst [who tested Bullcoming's blood] was not available," her opening, indeed, her entire defense "may very well have been dramatically different." Id., at 47. The State, however, proposed to introduce Caylor's finding as a "business record" during the testimony of Gerasimos Razatos, an SLD scientist who had neither observed nor reviewed Caylor's analysis. Id., at 44.

Bullcoming's counsel opposed the State's proposal. Id., at 44--45. Without Caylor's testimony, defense counsel maintained, introduction of the analyst's finding would violate Bullcoming's Sixth Amendment right "to be confronted with the witnesses against him." Ibid.*fn3 The trial court overruled the objection, id., at 46--47, and admitted the SLD report as a business record, id., at 44--46, 57.*fn4

The jury convicted Bullcoming of aggravated DWI, and the New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, concluding that "the blood alcohol report in the present case was non-testimonial and prepared routinely with guarantees of trustworthiness." 2008--NMCA--097, §17, 189 P. 3d 679, 685.

C.

While Bullcoming's appeal was pending before the New Mexico Supreme Court, this Court decided Melendez-Diaz. In that case, "[t]he Massachusetts courts [had] admitted into evidence affidavits reporting the results of forensic analysis which showed that material seized by the police and connected to the defendant was cocaine." 557 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 1). Those affidavits, the Court held, were " 'testimonial,' rendering the affiants 'witnesses' subject to the defendant's right of confrontation under the Sixth Amendment." Ibid.

In light of Melendez-Diaz, the New Mexico Supreme Court acknowledged that the blood-alcohol report introduced at Bullcoming's trial qualified as testimonial evidence. Like the affidavits in Melendez-Diaz, the court observed, the report was "functionally identical to live, in-court testimony, doing precisely what a witness does on direct examination." 226 P. 3d, at 8 (quoting MelendezDiaz, 557 U. S., at ___ (slip op., at 4)).*fn5 Nevertheless, for two reasons, the court held that admission of the report did not violate the Confrontation Clause.

First, the court said certifying analyst Caylor "was a mere scrivener," who "simply transcribed the results generated by the gas chromatograph machine." 226 P. 3d, at 8--9. Second, SLD analyst Razatos, although he did not participate in testing Bullcoming's blood, "qualified as an expert witness with respect to the gas chromatograph machine." Id., at 9. "Razatos provided live, in-court testimony," the court stated, "and, thus, was available for cross-examination regarding the operation of the . . . machine, the results of [Bullcoming's] BAC test, and the SLD's established laboratory procedures." Ibid. Razatos' testimony was crucial, the court explained, because Bullcoming could not cross-examine the machine or the written report. Id., at 10. But "[Bullcoming's] right of confrontation was preserved," the court concluded, because Razatos was a qualified analyst, able to serve as a surrogate for Caylor. Ibid.

We granted certiorari to address this question: Does the Confrontation Clause permit the prosecution to introduce a forensic laboratory report containing a testimonial certification, made in order to prove a fact at a criminal trial, through the in-court testimony of an analyst who did not sign the certification or personally perform or observe the performance of the test reported in the certification. 561 U. S. ___ (2010). Our answer is in line with controlling precedent: As a rule, if an out-of-court statement is testimonial in nature, it may not be introduced against the accused at trial unless the witness who made the statement is unavailable and the accused has had a prior opportunity to confront that witness. Because the New Mexico Supreme Court permitted the testimonial statement of one witness, i.e., Caylor, to enter into evidence through the in-court testimony of a second person, i.e., Razatos, we reverse that court's judgment.

II.

The Sixth Amendment's Confrontation Clause confers upon the accused "[i]n all criminal prosecutions, . . . the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him." In a pathmarking 2004 decision, Crawford v. Washington, we overruled Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U. S. 56 (1980), which had interpreted the Confrontation Clause to allow admission of absent witnesses' testimonial statements based on a judicial determination of reliability. See Roberts, 448 U. S., at 66. Rejecting Roberts' "amorphous notions of 'reliability,' " Crawford, 541 U. S., at 61, Crawford held that fidelity to the Confrontation Clause permitted admission of "[t]estimonial statements of witnesses absent from trial . . . only where the declarant is unavailable, and only where the defendant has had a prior opportunity to cross-examine," id., at 59. See Michigan v. Bryant, 562 U. S. ___, ___ (2011) (slip op., at 7) ("[F]or testimonial evidence to be admissible, the Sixth Amendment 'demands what the common law required: unavailability [of the witness] and a prior opportunity for cross-examination.' " (quoting Crawford, 541 U. S., at 68)). Melendez-Diaz, relying on Crawford's rationale, refused to create a "forensic evidence" ...

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