US Supreme Court Confirms Confrontation Right in Radar, DUI Cases
US Supreme Court decision in drunk driving case has wide-ranging implications for automated enforcement.
In a decision that has wide-ranging implications for photo enforcement, speeding tickets and driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI) charges, the US Supreme Court yesterday reconfirmed the Sixth Amendment right to confront one’s accuser applies to analysts who claim to have certified evidence from a machine. The 5-4 decision concluded that “stand-in” expert witnesses are not a substitute for the individuals who actually conducted the tests. The decision broadens the applicability of the landmark Melendez-Diaz ruling from 2009, which has already led to appellate division cases in four California counties to throw out red light camera evidence.
The high court examined the case of Donald Bullcoming whose vehicle rear-ended a truck belonging to Dennis Jackson in Farmington, New Mexico on August 14, 2005. Jackson went to exchange insurance information with Bullcoming and noticed that the man smelled of alcohol. Bullcoming fled the scene on foot before police arrived, but Officer Marty Snowbarger caught up to him and arrested him for DUI. After a breath test was refused, Snowbarger obtained a warrant to take Bullcoming’s blood. Forensic analyst Curtis Caylor’s test of this sample showed a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 0.21, a result that served as the primary evidence against Bullcoming at trial.
The blood testing process is performed by a gas chromatograph machine but remains subject to human error. The court noted a “fairly complex” Colorado lab mistake systematically produced high BAC readings for 206 defendants. Caylor did not testify at trial because he had been put on unpaid leave from his job for an unspecified reason. Instead, Gerasimos Razatos testified regarding the results which he had neither observed nor reviewed…..MORE