Skip to Content

Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts: Introducing Lab Reports in Trial

September 21, 2015 DUI/OWI/DWI

The United States Supreme Court Court case of Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts held that a laboratory report cannot be admitted into evidence without the lab technician testifying in person. The holding is based on the reasoning that the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment requires the lab technician testify in person.

Facts of the Case

Melendez-Diaz was suspected of perhaps drug dealing activity. The police detained him and eventually found cocaine. At trial, the prosecutor moved to admit laboratory certificates of analysis that claimed the substances found on Melendez-Diaz were cocaine. The defense objected to the admission of these certificates at trial without a lab tech there to testify, claiming the use of the lab certificates violated the Confrontation Clause per Crawford v. Washington because the lab certificates were testimonial.

The Sixth Amendment and the Confrontation Clause

The United States Constitution in the Sixth Amendment provides that “in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right…to be confronted with witnesses against him.” In the case of Crawford v. Washington, the Court held that the Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant’s right to confront those who “bear testimony” against him. The witness must appear in trial, or  if the witness becomes unavailable, the defendant must have had an opportunity for prior cross examination.

The Court went on to discuss what types of testimonial statements might be covered by the Confrontation Clause. Such testimonial statements include “affidavits, custodial examinations, prior testimony, prior testimony the defendant was unable to cross-examine, or similar pre-trial statements that declarants would reasonably expect to be used” in prosecutions.

The Court stated there is “little doubt” the laboratory certificates would fall under these types of testimonial statements.

Notice and Demand

The Court was not worried that its decision would make life difficult for the prosecution. This is because many states were already a system called notice and demand. At the outset of each court case, the prosecution provides notice that intends to introduce the results of laboratory report into evidence. The notice provides that the defense must object within a certain amount of time or else the report can be introduced without the person who performed the laboratory test present at trial. Where the defense objects, the prosecution must bring the lab tech to the trial. Where the defense does not object, the prosecution can get away with not bringing the lab tech to trial. The Court said the notice and demand system presents no constitutional violation.

The Court cited the fact that it is common for defense counsel to stipulate to the introduction of a lab report for various strategic reasons.

What Does This Mean for Criminal Defense Attorneys in OWI Cases?

Michigan has a notice and demand system. Let’s say a person is pulled over for drinking and driving, and the police have the person get blood drawn in the course of the OWI investigation. The blood will get sent to the Michigan State Police Laboratory for analysis. The lab tech will produce a report with the analysis of the blood results printed out. Once the OWI case begins in court, the prosecution will provide the defense with a notice to introduce the lab reports into evidence. In Michigan, the defense will then have 14 days from receipt of the notice to object, or have a good reason why an objection was not given.

Your defense lawyer in the criminal case will do the objection for you. Objecting once you receive notice keeps your options. Once that 14 days passes without notice, then there’s no guarantee the lab tech will come to court. There may be good reasons to cross examine the MSP lab tech at trial. For example, each measurement from the Michigan State Police laboratory comes with an amount of uncertainty. The lab tech will have to admit to this uncertainty on the stand. The amount of uncertainty could mean that a blood draw result is actually lower than the reported amount – a fact the jury should certainly hear about.

Call us

Call Sam Bernstein at 734-883-9584 or e-mail at bernstein@arborypsilaw.com.

Sam Bernstein is an Ann Arbor Criminal Defense Lawyer.

ArborYpsi Law is located at 4158 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48108.

Read More

Ann Arbor Drunk Driving Lawyer

At ArborYpsi Law, we focus on representing clients charged with DWI/OWI crimes. We have represented clients in courts throughout Washtenaw County and around metro Detroit. Courts we regularly appear in include the 14A2 District Court in Ypsilanti. The 14B District Court of Ypsilanti Township, and the 15th District Court of Ann Arbor. Call today for a free initial consultation. We are located in Ann Arbor, at the intersection of Washtenaw and Carpenter, across the street from the 14A-1 District Court for Pittsfield Township. Read our article on Drug Laws in Michigan.