The Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution says a defendant in a criminal prosecution shall enjoy the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him. The extent of that right has undergone significant changes by courts interpreting the Constitution. A recent example is the case of Bullcoming v. New Mexico, in which the United States Supreme Court addressed the right of a defendant in a D.U.I. (O.V.I.) case to confront the analyst that determined the concentration of alcohol in the defendant’s blood.
The Bullcoming decision is actually the third case in a series of three modern U.S. Supreme Court cases discussing the confrontation clause. In Crawford v. Washington (2004), the Court held that any “testimonial” statements cannot be admitted in a trial unless the defendant has an opportunity to cross-examine the person that made the statements. In Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts (2009), the Court concluded that an analyst’s report identifying a drug is “testimonial”, so it cannot be admitted at trial without live testimony. That case left open the question of whether the witness testifying has to be the analyst that actually performed the analysis.
That question was answered in Bullcoming. In this case, the defendant caused a two-car accident, failed field sobriety tests, and refused a breath test. He was given a blood test, and the result was .21. At the trial, the prosecution called an analyst to testify regarding the blood test. It was not, however, the analyst that actually performed the blood test. Bullcoming was convicted, and his case ultimately went to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court concluded that the analyst who actually performed the test must testify at the trial unless the witness is unavailable and was previously subjected to cross-examination. Admitting the testimony of the other analyst violated Bullcoming’s right to confront the witnesses against him, so the conviction was reversed.
Bullcoming is an important decision for protecting defendants’ confrontation rights in O.V.I. cases and in criminal cases generally. An added bonus is that it’s also an easy case name for attorneys to remember.