Appeals Court (January 5, 2010)
The Commonwealth's introduction of a certificate of analysis alone, without testimony from the chemist, was harmless error beyond a reasonable doubt, because of the detailed testimony of a police officer qualified as an expert in drugs.
The defendant was charged with trafficking in cocaine. At trial, the defendant did not challenge the fact that he possessed cocaine but rather maintained that the cocaine was for personal use and not for sale. To counter the defendant's claim, the Commonwealth qualified a Lieutenant as an expert in the field of drugs. During his testimony, the expert went into specific detail about the fact that the substance was in fact cocaine including, the color of the cocaine, whether or not it was wet or dry, and the fact that the cocaine was weighed at the police station. As to distribution, the expert testified to how cocaine is sold on the street, the value of the cocaine recovered from the defendant, and the value of the cocaine if distributed on the street. The expert completed his testimony but telling the jury that based upon his training and experience, the amount of cocaine possessed by the defendant was consistent with distribution and not personal use.
The defendant was convicted of trafficking in cocaine and appealed the conviction arguing that the admission in evidence of a drug certificate of analysis, without live testimony by the chemist, requires reversal of his conviction on the drug charge. Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 129 S. Ct. 2527 (2009). The Court agreed that admission of the certificate of analysis was error; however, in this case, based on the testimony of the expert witness, "[t]here was ample circumstantial evidence of cocaine distribution" and since the defendant focused on the distribution versus personal use rather than whether or not the substance was in fact cocaine, the admission of the certificate of analysis was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.