The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Boston has ruled in favor of the prosecution. The type of case? Operating under the influence.
As you may know, when one is pulled over by police, and suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, one is offered the opportunity to try their luck in a variety of mini-contests. These would include various field sobriety tests as well as the breathalyzer machine.
The SJC has now ruled that the Commonwealth need not call a technician to testify that the breathalyzer used was working properly at the time in question.
The matter originated with a Greenfield woman who had been convicted of drunk driving. Her Massachusetts drunk driving attorney argued that, since the certification of the breathalyzer was introduced into evidence, that the defendant had the right to cross-examine a live witness with regard to said certification. The purpose, of course, would be to call into question how closely the machine had been inspected so that the jury could decide for itself whether they believed the machine was working properly.
After all, the United States Constitution’s Sixth Amendment indicates that a criminal defendant has the right to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses. The defense argued that the certificate is testimony in itself and one cannot cross-examine a piece of paper. Thus, the preparer of said certificate should be called to testify by the Commonwealth.
The SJC disagreed. The court said that records like the certificate are “business records” primarily intended to “to guarantee, internally, as a matter of course, and when necessary, in court, the accuracy and standardization of all breathalyzer testing across the various police departments of the Commonwealth.”
The court also ruled that “We conclude that the … records are nontestimonial, and their admission without the live testimony of the technician who prepared them did not violate the confrontation clause of the Sixth Amendment”.
Sounds simple enough and easily understood, right?!?!?
The defendant’s attorneys had relied on a recent United States Supreme Court ruling which held that certificates of drug analysis constituted testimony and drug lab experts should be called to testify.
Attorney Sam’s Take On Supreme Courts And Evidence
In the Commonwealth, new law generally gets shaped and reshaped by Massachusetts appellate courts. The SJC is the highest such court in Massachusetts state law. The highest federal law, that which governs all the states, is the United States Supreme Court.
At times, such as in this case, rulings between the courts seem to be at odds with one another. That’s ok, though, sometimes these courts tend to contradict their own earlier decisions.
Caselaw, like the times, change.
The issue of the breathalyzer and its certificate is an interesting one and it can be argued in various ways. Like most legal issues, despite the laws, nothing in criminal justice is simple and clear cut. If it seems to be, than it usually turns out to be wrong.
And yet…great stakes hang in the balance. Justice for a complainant! Liberty for the accused! A fair trial for all!
These things may seem simple enough, but they are not simple at all. The system is too complicated for that and, in an effort to answer every possibility, it becomes too muddied for there to be a simple answer.
This is one reason why simple day-to-day logic does not always work in the criminal justice system. This is why, if it is your fate hanging in the balance, you want the help of a learned guide. That guide is an experienced criminal defense attorney.
As I have stated before, one of the chief reasons I do this blog is to translate the realities of the criminal justice system to those who would not otherwise know, or understand.
Many may figure that I am biased. I am. But I also believe that there is a desperate need for the public to understand this system which greatly controls much of their lives.
However, if you are facing the Halls of Justice, you cannot wait until I write the blog which answers your query exactly. You need representation now.
After all the witnesses against you have expert legal guidance from the start…they are called prosecutors. Despite their oaths, these prosecutors are biased advocates…and if your last name has become “Defendant”, they are biased against you.
Bellieve me. I was one of them.
If you would like to discuss a criminal matter with me, please feel free to call me at 617-492-3000 to arrange a free initial consultation.
To view the article upon which this blog is based, please go to http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2011/05/sjc_rejects_cha.html