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COA: Breathalyzer certificate is not testimonial

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For the first time since the Supreme Court of the United States’ 2009 ruling that found a defendant had a Sixth Amendment right to confront the analysts who prepared lab certificates certifying the defendant had cocaine, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that a trial court did not violate the defendant’s right to confrontation by allowing the inspection certificate for a breathalyzer into evidence, even though the certifier of the equipment did not testify at trial.

In Francisco J. Ramirez v. State of Indiana, No. 65A01-0911-CR-543, finding the inspection certificate was not testimonial evidence within the purview of Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), and Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 129 S. Ct. 2527 (2009), the Court of Appeals affirmed Francisco J. Ramirez’s conviction of Class A misdemeanor operating a vehicle while intoxicated.

On Oct. 18, 2008, Ramirez was arrested for drunk driving and failed a field sobriety test after he was pulled over by a Mount Vernon Police Department officer. The officer had observed Ramirez was swerving and used his radar to find Ramirez was driving 8 mph over the posted speed limit.

After he was pulled over, Ramirez failed three field sobriety tests. He then agreed to a breath test on a BAC DataMaster, which printed a ticket that showed his blood alcohol content was .09.

At trial, the state introduced Ramirez’ breath test results and an official certificate of compliance that verified the officer’s DataMaster had been examined Aug. 12, 2008, and had been found to satisfy the requirements of Department of Toxicology Regulations. The director at the Department of Toxicology had signed the certificate.

Ramirez argued because the certificate showed the DataMaster’s results would be accurate, not being able to cross-examine the certifier disqualified the DataMaster printout as evidence.

Following Crawford, and prior to Melendez-Diaz, the Court of Appeals continued to find that certificates of compliance for breathalyzers were not testimonial, according to today’s opinion for Ramirez.

“We reasoned in part that (1) the certificates are not prepared at a judicial proceeding or during police interrogation, Rembusch, 836 N.E.2d at 982, (2) the certificates are not sworn affidavits and do not contain formalized testimonial materials, id., and (3) although inspection certificates are prepared for purposes of criminal litigation, ‘certification of breath-test machines is removed from the direct investigation or direct proof of whether any particular defendant has operated a vehicle while intoxicated; the certificates are not prepared in anticipation of litigation in any particular case or with respect to implicating any specific defendant.’ Jarrell, 852 N.E.2d at 1026 (citations omitted),” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote.

Following the decision of Melendez-Diaz, Judge Vaidik continued, the Court of Appeals still finds that the certificate for a breathalyzer is still not testimonial in nature. She cited the Supreme Court’s decision, which addressed certificates for lab equipment.

In her dissent, Senior Judge Betty Barteau agreed in result, but disagreed “with the majority’s conclusion that the State’s Certificate of Inspection and Compliance of Breath Test Instruments … is nontestimonial in nature. I therefore conclude that admission of that document violated Ramirez’s Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him.”

Judge Barteau then compared the case to the 2009 Indiana Supreme Court decision Pendergrass v. State, 913 N.E.2d 703 (Ind. 2009), in which the Indiana Supreme Court determined a certificate of analysis from a DNA lab technician was testimonial in nature, citing Melendez-Diaz.

Judge Barteau also wrote in the Ramirez case the error was harmless because there was enough other evidence for a jury to convict Ramirez of operating a vehicle while intoxicated in a manner endangering a person, a Class A misdemeanor, based on the observations of the officer, who did testify at trial.
 

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