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Defendant had right to confront lab technician

January 1, 2008
The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed a defendant's drug conviction, finding his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation was denied when he was unable to depose or cross-examine the lab technician who prepared a report stating cocaine was found in his car.

In Ricky L. Jackson v. State of Indiana, No. 27A02-0710-CR-902, Ricky Jackson appealed his conviction of dealing in cocaine, invoking the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), which ruled that when testimonial statements are at issue, a defendant has the right to confrontation.

Jackson was stopped by police, who found cocaine in his car. A lab technician tested and verified what was found in Jackson's vehicle was cocaine, but the technician was on maternity leave during Jackson's trial and did not testify. Her supervisor at the Indiana State Police Laboratory testified in her place and used the certificate of analysis showing the drug was cocaine. The trial court admitted the certificate into evidence over Jackson's objection.

But Jackson's drug conviction must be reversed because the technician didn't testify at his trial nor was he able to depose her before trial, wrote Judge Edward Najam.

The appellate court relied on the Crawford decision and a ruling from the Supreme Court of Florida on this same issue to answer a question of first impression in Indiana: whether a certificate of analysis or lab report used to prove an element of a charged crime constitutes a testimonial statement under Crawford.

The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with the Florida high court's finding that a lab report prepared for a criminal trial that isn't backed up by the preparer's testimony at trial violates the defendant's rights under Crawford and the Sixth Amendment.

In the instant case, the certificate of analysis is a testimonial statement under Crawford and isn't admissible under the business record exception to the hearsay rule under Indiana Evidence Rule 803, as the state argues, wrote Judge Najam.

The appellate court reversed Jackson's conviction but wrote in a footnote the reversal does allow the state to retry Jackson on this same charge.
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