Confrontation Clause challenge in DUI case before the Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court will soon consider the case of Yohe v. Pennsylvania involving a DUI arrestee’s right to confront the lab technicians who analyzed his blood sample. The petition for writ of certiorari was filed by Attorney Justin McShane and is scheduled for conference later this week.

In the matter of Yohe, the defendant was arrested for operating under the influence during a traffic stop. The defendant subsequently provided a blood sample which was shipped to a 3rd party forensic lab for analysis for blood alcohol content. The lab then reported its findings to the prosecutor’s office, which offered them into evidence during trial through the testimony of an assistant director at the lab.

The forensic lab’s analysis consisted of three tests on three different portions of the defendant’s blood sample. The first analysis was an enzymatic assay test, conducted by one lab technician; another technician retrieved two more portions from the blood sample and conducted a Headspace Gas Chromatography test on each. The results of all three tests were reported to an assistant lab director who compared the results against certain lab protocols and electronically signed the reports certifying their accuracy.

After the defendant was convicted, the trial judge granted a post-sentence motion asserting a Confrontation Clause challenge to the prosecutor’s admission of the lab results through the lab director rather than the technicians that conducted the actual analysis. The trial judge found the defendant’s right of confrontation was unfairly limited when he was only provided an opportunity to cross examine the lab director and not the individual technicians. According to the judge, the technicians’ analyses inherently consist of certain exercises of judgment which should be scrutinized by the defendant. By this reasoning, the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right to confront requires that the technicians be made available to cross-examination by the defendant.

The state appellate courts, however, reinstated the initial conviction. The appellate courts reasoned that although the lab director did not personally conduct the analyses or measure the chemical contents in the blood sample, the lab director did conduct an independent analysis of the data and results reported by the lower technicians. The lab director’s involvement to this extent in independently reviewing the data was sufficient to confirm him as a “witness” for sixth amendment purposes who has personal knowledge of the analyses and is able to testify on that basis.

Attorney McShane, the author of the appellate petition, has raised the argument that the state appellate courts applied the Crawford and Bullcoming decisions too broadly so as to incorporate the lab director as a “witness” in the Confrontation Clause analysis. The Pennsylvania state courts’ interpretation of the Supreme Court’s holdings thereby allow the prosecution to contravene the Framer’s intent to protect criminal defendants from being deprived of the opportunity to expose the truth to the jury through the cross-examination of the defendant’s actual accusers.

The Yohe matter presents an interesting opportunity for the Supreme Court to finally resolve the confusion resulting from its Confrontation Clause decisions over the past decade. The Court currently has several cases on its docket raising Confrontational Clause challenges to the admissibility of evidence in different criminal contexts. If the Court does choose to hear the Yohe matter, it will hopefully mend the split in court decisions all across the nation over government admission of forensic evidence in both OUI’s and drug charges, preparing a clear path for courts, prosecutors, and defense attorneys in Massachusetts to argue this important Sixth Amendment issue in the future.

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