April 2010 Archives

April 5, 2010

Court Documents Admitted in Drunk Driving Trial Not Violative of Sixth Amendment's Right to Confrontation

If you have been following this blog, you have seen several recent posts about criminal convictions being reversed as a result of the Melendez-Diaz and Crawford decisions. These decisions have dramatically changed the landscape of permissible 'testimonial' evidence against a defendant at trial, but the scope of these decisions is limited.

In the recent case of Commonwealth v. Dale McMullin, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court pulled the reigns, so to speak, on the scope of Melendez-Diaz. The criminal defendant in this case was charged with several drunk driving related offenses, including Operating of a Motor Vehicle While Under the Influence of Liquor, Fourth Offense (M.G.L. c. 90, section 24(1)(a)(1); Operating After Suspension, Second Offense (M.G.L. c. 90, section 23); and Failure to Stop for a Police Officer (M.G.L. c. 90, section 25). After his criminal conviction, the defendant appealed challenging the admissibility, competency and sufficiency of the public records used to establish his prior convictions.

Although the defendant acknowledged that the admissibility of Registry of Motor Vehicle records was permitted by Commonwealth v. Maloney, he argued that the Maloney decision was based on the Confrontation Clause analysis in Commonwealth v. Verde, which was later overturned by Melendez-Diaz.

In rejecting the defendant's argument, the Massachusetts Supreme Court explained that Melendez-Diaz explicitly acknowledged that a clerk's affidavit authenticating an official record is not 'testimonial' for purposes of the Confrontation Clause. Rather, business and public records are generally admissible and not confrontational because they have been created for the administration of an entity's affairs and not for the purposes of proving some fact at trial.

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