Database readout wasn’t hearsay, administrative violation, COA affirms

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A database readout that was admitted in lieu of a missing breath-test ticket was not hearsay, nor was it a violation of the Indiana Administrative Code, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has ruled in a decision that drew a word of “caution” from the panel.

In August 2019, Indiana State Police Trooper Nathaniel Hampton saw a dump truck pull onto State Road 267 in Hendricks County. He performed a “random inspection” of the vehicle, during which he smelled alcohol on the breath of the driver, Bryan Priest.

Priest passed several field sobriety tests and was taken to the Plainfield Police Department for a certified breath test. He informed the police that he’d had six Coors Light beers the previous night and had stopped drinking around 1 a.m. Hampton stopped him just before 8 a.m.

Priest’s alcohol concentration equivalent was .042, so police issued him a traffic infraction ticket for operating a commercial vehicle with alcohol concentration equivalent to 0.04 but less than 0.08 pursuant to Indiana Code § 9-24-6.1-6.

The case was initially litigated in Plainfield Town Court, which entered judgment against Priest. At a subsequent proceeding, Hampton testified that he provided copies of the breath-test report to both parties, but it was never admitted into evidence.

Priest then appealed to the Hendricks Superior Court, where both parties disputed the admissibility of the breath-test results as recorded by the traffic infraction ticket. The breath-test ticket wasn’t admitted again, and the state sought to prove Priest’s ACE using only the traffic infraction ticket.

The Hendricks Superior Court ruled the traffic infraction ticket was admissible. Priest then filed a motion to certify the ruling for an interlocutory appeal, which was granted.

The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s ruling in 2022.

On remand, the trial court asked where the original ticket went, and the state admitted it didn’t know. Instead, the state looked to an unsigned database readout from the Department of Toxicology.

Priest argued that the database readout was inadmissible because it constituted hearsay and didn’t conform with the requirements of the Indiana Administrative Code. The trial court rejected the hearsay argument without explanation.

As for the administrative code argument, the trial court ruled, “So, the Court finds as follows: number one (1), the breath test, the original or a copy is not present, there is no signature, so step 10 has not been complied with of the [ ] Indiana Administrative Code 260. However, the tests were performed according [sic], except for the signature, were performed according to Indiana Administrative Code, we had a trooper testify to all the steps.”

The trial court then found Priest “guilty” and asked if he was going to appeal before it assessed any fines and costs.

Priest did appeal, arguing the trial court erroneously admitted the evidence. He once again claimed the database readout was hearsay.

Rejecting that argument, the COA pointed to the “mechanical hearsay rule.”

“… (T)he Intox ECIR II, or any other machine for that matter, cannot perceive or remember. It cannot narrate or feign sincerity. And it cannot be cross-examined. Those realities all apply with equal force to the servers that host the Department of Toxicology database that stores ACE test results,” Judge Peter Foley wrote, citing Cranston v. State, 936 N.E.2d 342 (Ind. Ct. App. 2010). “We find that Cranston and the mechanical hearsay rule are controlling here, and, thus, the trial court did not err in admitting the database readout over Priest’s hearsay objection.”

The appellate court also determined that the administrative code doesn’t apply to the database readout in the case.

“We are, therefore, faced with a strange and potentially dangerous conclusion: state law conditions the admissibility of breath test results on the strict compliance with rigorous standards — designed and adopted by the Department of Toxicology — for all breath tests unless the test is administered to the driver of a commercial vehicle cited under I.C. 9-24-6.1-6,” Foley wrote. “We cannot, of course, know whether that result is the product of considered intent by the General Assembly, or the product of mere inadvertence.”

The appellate court thus declined Priest’s invitation to hold that the code applies to commercial driver’s licenses cases or that the requirement applies to documents other than the test ticket.

But Foley added a note of caution to the court’s ruling.

“A word of caution: our decision today should not be read to suggest that the State may end-run around the necessity for breath test standards merely by citing commercial drivers under Indiana Code Section 9-24-6.1-6,” he wrote. “Section 260 of the Code may not yet formally apply to citations under that statute, but we find it illuminating that the State laid the foundation to demonstrate that Trooper Hampton did, in fact, comply with the requirements of the Code. In other words, while demonstrating compliance with the Code may not be strictly necessary, it is certainly sufficient to demonstrate that the breath test administered was reliable.”

Judges Nancy Vaidik and Elizabeth Tavitas concurred.

The case is Bryan Priest v. State of Indiana, 22A-MI-2845.

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