California Case Law on the Admissibility of Out-of-Court Statements

Admission of testimonial out-of-court statements is barred by the confrontation clause of the Sixth Amendment unless the witness is unavailable and the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the witness. (Crawford v. Washington (2004) 541 U.S. 36, 68-69.) In Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts (2009) 557 U.S. 305, the prosecution proved a substance recovered by police was cocaine by submitting sworn certificates of analysis rather than live testimony. (Id. at p. 307.) The court concluded the analysts' statements, prepared specifically for trial against Melendez-Diaz, were testimony against him and the analysts were subject to confrontation under the Sixth Amendment. (Id. at p. 324.) In People v. Lopez (2012) 55 Cal.4th 569, the defendant was charged with vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, and the prosecution introduced into evidence a laboratory analyst's report on the percentage of alcohol in a blood sample taken two hours after the accident. (Id. at p. 573.) The analyst wrote a notation on the report linking defendant's name to the sample number. (Id. at p. 585.) The court stated that for a statement to be testimonial, it must be made with some degree of formality or solemnity, and its primary focus must pertain in some fashion to a criminal prosecution. (Id. at pp. 581-582.) The court held the laboratory report, even with the analyst's notation, was not testimonial in nature. (Id. at p. 585.) The prosecution proved its murder case with the testimony of a forensic pathologist, who did not prepare the autopsy report or take the photographs he testified about, in People v. Dungo (2012) 55 Cal.4th 608 at page 612. The court concluded the witness's testifying about objective facts concerning the condition of the victim's body, which facts he derived from the autopsy report prepared by another pathologist, did not give the defendant the right to confront and cross-examine the pathologist who prepared the report and took the photographs. (Id. at p. 621.) In People v. Rutterschmidt (2012) 55 Cal.4th 650, two elderly women were convicted of murdering two men in order to collect life insurance proceeds. (Id. at p. 652.) To prove its theory one of the victims was drugged before he was killed, the prosecution presented the testimony of a laboratory director who, relying on reports not prepared by him, testified that testing of the victim's blood samples by analysts at his laboratory had determined the presence of drugs that could have caused drowsiness. (Ibid.) The court concluded it did not need to decide whether the trial court erred in allowing the laboratory director's testimony because the evidence of guilt was overwhelming. (Id. at p. 661.) In People v. Holmes (2012) 212 Cal.App.4th 431, a defendant who was convicted of murder, robbery and burglary, complained that testifying DNA experts did not personally perform all the testing upon which they relied in reaching their opinions. (Id. at p. 433.) The Holmes court found the analysis in Lopez, particularly persuasive. Referring to the two steps set forth in Lopez, the Holmes court stated: "That a statement is prepared for use at trial is not alone sufficient to render it 'testimonial' under any formulation of that term yet adopted by a majority of the United States Supreme Court justices or the California Supreme Court. It must also be 'formalized.' " (People v. Holmes, supra, 212 Cal.App.4th at p. 436.)