United States Supreme Court (June 25, 2009)

The admission of a drug certification alone, without live witness testimony from an analyst, is a violation of a defendant's Sixth Amendment Right to confront witnesses.

During the defendant's trial on drug charges, the Commonwealth introduced certificates of state laboratory analysts stating that material seized by police and connected to the defendant was cocaine of a certain quantity. The drug certificates were sworn to before a notary public and submitted as prima facie evidence of what they asserted. The defendant argued that Crawford v. Washington required the Commonwealth to call the drug analyst testify to the facts contained in the certification. The trial court disagreed and admitted the certificates into evidence. The defendant was convicted of the drug charges and appealed. The Massachusetts Appeals Court affirmed, rejecting the defendant's claim that the certificates' admission violated the Sixth Amendment. The Supreme Judicial Court denied further appellate review. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari, however, and agreed with the defendant, ruling that the admission of the certificates did violate the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confront the witnesses against him.

The USSC reasoned that under Crawford, a witness's testimonial statements against a defendant are inadmissible unless the witness appears at trial or, if the witness is unavailable, the defendant had a prior opportunity for cross examination. The drug certificates in this case are affidavits, which fall within the "core class of testimonial statements" covered by the Confrontation Clause. The certificates assert that the analyzed substance was cocaine of a certain weight-the precise testimony the analysts would be expected to provide if called at trial. Not only were the certificates made, as Crawford requires for testimonial statements, "under circumstances which would lead an objective witness reasonably to believe that the statement would be available for use at a later trial," but their sole purpose was to provide prima facie evidence of the substance's composition, quality and net weight. The defendant was thus entitled to confront the witness giving this testimony at trial.