Friday, July 27, 2007

ACCA rules a lab report is testimonial hearsay for Crawford purposes

ACCA has released a significant published opinion. United States v. Williamson, __ M.J. ___, No. ARMY 20030855 (A. Ct. Crim. App. July 25, 2007).

ACCA holds "that, under the circumstances of this case, [a] laboratory report [identifying a substance as marijuana and providing its weight] is testimonial under Crawford [v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004),] and, therefore, was improperly admitted under Mil. R. Evid. 803(6)." Williamson, slip op. at 2.

ACCA emphasizes that this holding "is limited to the facts of this
case." Id., slip op. at 18. The court explains that it bases its holding "primarily on the fact that the 'statement' is a post-apprehension laboratory report, requested after local police arrested appellant." Id., slip op. at 20 (footnote omitted). ACCA explains that "although we find generating the USACIL forensic report akin to an 'objective cataloging of unambiguous factual matters[,]' Rankin, 64 M.J. at 352, i.e., the identity and amount of a controlled substance, we also find the laboratory technician's 'statements' responded to a law enforcement inquiry, and the 'primary purpose for making, or eliciting, the [report]' was to produce evidence 'with an eye toward trial,' i.e., the report was produced months after appellant's arrest, and after the government preferred the charge alleging narcotics possession with intent to distribute. Id." Williamson, slip op. at 20 (footnote omitted).

Despite finding constitutional error, ACCA held that the erroneous admission of the lab report was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Id., slip op. at 26.

The opinion includes the following implausible observation: "Although the USACIL is a division of the CID (the Army's law enforcement branch), the USACIL does not function as a prosecution support tool; rather, by its own mission statement, USACIL exists to render neutral support to the CID by 'examin[ing] crime-related evidence to assist investigators in solving crime.' U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, at (last visited 23 July 2007) (emphasis added)." Id., slip op. at 7 n.8. If only we had any Army readers, I would ask if any of them believed that USACIL is neutral and doesn't function to support the prosecution.

Extraneous question of the day: Why on earth does the Williamson opinion include the Registered Trademark symbol after its references to U.S. Postal Service Express Mail and a FedEx USA Airbill? See id., slip op. at 5.

1 comment:

Sacramentum said...

I suppose it depends on what the definition of "neutral" is. It is hard to argue that the lab is not an arm of the CID. On the other hand, I know of cases in which experts from the lab testified for the accused. In one case, 2 DNA experts from USACIL testified that the accused could not have had sex with the alleged victim of a sexual assault because they found no evidence of it. Result: acquittal.