A recent Louisiana Supreme Court ruling dispelled the notion that, in order to offer into evidence documents certifying the accuracy of a breathalyzer machine, the state was required to make the certifying technician available to testify. The ruling explained that, since the documents were “not testimonial” in nature, their admission without the technician’s testimony did not violate the Constitution’s Confrontation Clause.
The case stems back to the 2012 traffic stop of Maurice Hawley. After a state trooper stopped the man’s vehicle for speeding and an improper lane change, he suspected the driver of being intoxicated. Hawley blew a .144 using an Intoxilyzer 5000 device, prompting the state to charge him with driving while under the influence.
At trial, the state produced document evidence of Hawley’s test result, the form certifying that the machine was approved and accurate, and the document detailing the certification technician’s qualifications. The machine was certified by Cory Thompson, a specialist at the state police’s Applied Technology Unit.
The driver objected to Thompson’s qualification and machine certification documents as inadmissible hearsay and asked for the court to exclude them unless he could cross-examine Thompson. The court allowed the evidence. Thompson did not take the stand. Hawley pled guilty, conditioned on his right to appeal the evidence suppression issue.
The Louisiana Court of Appeal sided with the driver, but the Supreme Court reached a different conclusion. Thompson’s failure to testify did not create a violation of the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause because the documents certifying the machine’s veracity and the technician’s qualifications were not testimony with the meaning of Sixth Amendment law. Unlike other similar forms that did qualify as testimony and did raise potential Confrontation Clause issues, the forms the state used in Hawley’s case were different because they were not created “for the primary purpose of providing evidence in a criminal case.”
Neither the certification form nor the technician qualification document could establish that Hawley was legally drunk at the time of his arrest, or prove any element of the DUI charge of which the state accused him. Thompson checked the breathalyzer and completed the certification form, not for the purpose of being used as evidence, but to establish compliance with another statute, which required that breathalyzers be inspected, checked, and certified every four months.
As for the third document, Hawley’s .144 test result, the state intended to introduce that evidence through the trooper who administered the test and who was available to testify. Since the other two documents were not testimonial in nature, that meant that the state’s evidence did not present a Confrontation Clause issue.
While Hawley ultimately was unsuccessful in his challenge, his case does highlight the importance of ensuring all people accused of crimes, including those accused of DUI, receive a truly fair trial with full Constitutional protections. If you or a loved one is facing a DUI charge, seek out an experienced Louisiana attorney to assist you with your case. Our Louisiana DWI/DUI attorneys at the Cardone Law Firm are here to help you analyze your options and pursue a defense that best meets the facts of your case as well as your needs.
For your confidential consultation, contact us online or phone Cardone at 504-522-3333.
More Blog Posts:
Use of Incomplete Breathalyzer Test Result at Trial Triggers Reversal of Drunk Driving Conviction, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, Aug. 27, 2014
State Puts New, Tougher DWI Penalties into Effect, Louisiana Injury Lawyers Blog, Aug. 27, 2014