BULLCOMING v. NEW MEXICO, No. 09–10876 (June 23, 2011)
In a 5-4 opinion by Justice Ginsburg, the Supreme Court held that the Confrontation Clause does not permit the prosecution to introduce a forensic laboratory report containing a testimonial certification 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. Additionally, 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.
In August 2008, petitioner Donald Bullcoming was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated after he rear-ended a pick-up truck in Farmington, New Mexico. During the investigation for his DWI, Mr. Bullcoming refused to take a breathe test, and therefore police obtained a warrant allowing them to draw blood. Mr. Bullcoming’s blood sample was then sent to New Mexico’s scientific laboratory where analyst Curtis Caylor administered various tests and determined that the blood alcohol content was .21. Mr. Calyor then filled out the necessary forensic report and signed the certificate of analyst; affirming that he had conducted the tests and his statements were true.
On the day of the trial, the prosecution announced that Mr. Caylor would be unavailable to testify because he was on unpaid leave. Despite objections from Mr. Bullcoming’s counsel arguing that under the Confrontation Clause he had the right as the accused to confront the witness against him, the Trial Court allowed for the state to admit Mr. Caylor’s forensic report. In addition to allowing the report, the trial court allowed for another analyst from the same scientific lab, Mr. Razatos, to testify to the reliability of Mr. Caylor’s report. Mr. Bullcoming was convicted and on appeal, the New Mexico Court of Appeals upheld his conviction, holding that the blood alcohol report in the present case was non-testimonial and prepared routinely with guarantees of trustworthiness.
In its 5-4 opinion by Justice Ginsburg, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts ruling by first noting that since the time of the New Mexico Court of Appeals’s ruling where the Court found that a forensic blood alcohol report was “non-testimonial,” that the Supreme Court has since ruled on Melendez-Diaz. In Melendez-Diaz the Supreme Court held thatevidence admitted to the courts, such as affidavits reporting the results of forensic analysis, are testimonial and must be accompanied by testimony of an expert. Because of that ruling, the Supreme Court agreed that Mr. Caylor’s forensic BAC report is testimonial. Therefore, in reversing the lower court’s decision, the Supreme Court held that the Confrontation Clause does not permit the prosecution to introduce a forensic laboratory report containing a testimonial certification 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, i.e. Mr. Razatos. Finally, the Court found that because Mr. Calyor was unavailable and Mr. Bullcoming did not have an opportunity to cross examine Mr. Caylor before trial, the admission of the BAC report as well as the testimony of Mr. Razatos violated his Sixth Amendment rights.