July 18, 2019

Colorado Supreme Court: No Confrontation Clause Violation when Supervisor Testified As to Lab Testing

The Colorado Supreme Court issued its opinion in Marshall v. People on Monday, July 1, 2013.

Sixth Amendment—Confrontation Clause—Testimonial Statements—Laboratory Supervisor.

Petitioner was charged with driving under the influence of drugs, careless driving, and possession of drug paraphernalia after lab results revealed she had methamphetamine in her system when she caused a car accident. At trial, the People called the supervisor of the Colorado Department of Health toxicology lab to testify about petitioner’s level of intoxication. During her testimony, the People sought to admit the lab result showing that petitioner had methamphetamine in her urine. Although the lab supervisor did not conduct the urinalysis test herself, she supervised the testing process, reviewed all the data generated by the test, made the determination that the data accurately determined that petitioner had methamphetamine present in her urine, and certified the test results. Over petitioner’s objection, the trial court admitted the lab report without the testimony of the lab technician who actually performed the test.

The Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s ruling regarding the admission of the lab report. Admission of the lab report did not violate the Confrontation Clause because the lab supervisor managed the testing process, reviewed all data generated, determined that the data accurately showed that petitioner had methamphetamine present in her urine, and certified the results. She therefore did not provide “surrogate” testimony of the sort found to be problematic in Bullcoming v. New Mexico, ___ U.S. ___, 131 S.Ct. 2705 (2011).

Admission of the lab report also did not violate CRS § 16-3-309(5), which provides that, on a defendant’s timely request, the lab employee who “accomplished the requested analysis” must be made available to testify at trial. According to the plain meaning of “accomplish,” the lab supervisor accomplished the analysis because she performed the final analysis of the data required to certify the results as accurate. Therefore, the lab supervisor’s testimony satisfied the statutory provision.

The trial court also denied petitioner’s motion for judgment of acquittal on the paraphernalia possession charge. Acting in its appellate capacity, the district court upheld the trial court’s decision. Because the People conceded that there was no evidence presented that petitioner possessed drug paraphernalia, the Court held that the county court erroneously denied petitioner’s motion for judgment of acquittal on this charge, and reversed the district court’s judgment in this regard.

Summary and full case available here.

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