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New York Court Discusses Admissibility of Lab Report as Evidence


A case was filed against a 15 year old boy for allegedly handing another minor a glassine envelope which apparently contained heroin. Penal Law 220.03 and 220.39 under this court’s jurisdiction provides that such act would constitute a drug crime if committed by an adult. The defendant’s counsel moved that the evidence which points to the minor be suppressed for not being seized under circumstances allowed by law. The court denied the petition and insisted that the seizure of heroin from his jacket was executed after taking into consideration the constitutional safeguards granted by law to each and every person. The counsel of the petitioner offered as evidence the police laboratory report which provides the analysis of the substance seized from the accused. The defendant’s counsel contended that such a report cannot be considered by the court unless the chemist who prepared the report appears in court for the purpose of cross examination.

The court decided contrary to the respondent’s assertion, arguing that the admissibility of an official police laboratory report with the absence of cross examination was an exception to the hearsay rule which provides that no statement of any person shall be admissible in court unless such person concerned attests to its authenticity and accuracy. The court argued further that according to established jurisprudence in criminal law, the hearsay rule admits certain exceptions. Among these are the general business document clause as provided in CPLR4518(a) and the ones provided in CPLR4518(c) and CPLR4520 which provide respectively that a record certified by an employee of a department or bureau of a municipal corporation and certificate of a public officer are not within the ambit of prohibitions as mandated by the hearsay rule. The court cited several case laws, mostly concerning marijuana possession, crack possession, LSD possession, heroin possession and ecstacy possession, explaining the rationale behind the exceptions. The court in these cases asserted the presumption of regularity that is accorded to documents released by public officials in the regular course of their employment.

It further established the meaning of regular course of employment as contemplated by law. In the case of Gioia v. State of New York, the court admitted as evidence an electroen-cephalogram diagnosing cause of death as ‘asphyxiation by strangulation while temporarily insane and stated that the document was produced within the regular course of business. The court reiterated the constitutionally granted right of an accused to meet witnesses face to face and verify the accuracy of statements against him/her in a criminal action, however in holding the contention of the respondent flawed, it stated that the introduction of public documents and official records required to be kept does not in any way violate the constitutional provision as provided. Moreover, it justified its contention by stating that in the absence of any motive to conceal or distort the truth, and taking into consideration the manner in which it was produced and intention for its production, documents from a public source would suffice as evidence without cross examination. This decision affirms, according to the court the established principle, that public documents must be accorded by the court the highest degree of respect. In another case, the diagnostic report prepared by a doctor of a public agency was again admitted as evidence supported once more by the argument that since it was not established that the drafting of the report was motivated by personal interest, there is no reason why the admission of it would amount to violation of due process of law. The court, in not affirming the necessity of a cross examination, asserted further that the statement of the chemist as to the accuracy of the particular report cannot add to the probative value of the document’s declaration. Anent the argument, it stated that the chemist, who conducts numerous tests and in reference to them drafts reports, can possibly not remember the circumstance of every particular case and elucidate its veracity but can only generally attest to the regularity and accuracy of the tests they conduct and reports they draft in the ordinary course of their business.

In view of the arguments presented by each party, the court decided in favor of the admissibility of the official police laboratory report as evidence against the respondent in the criminal proceeding and upheld the exceptions as provided in CPLR4518(a), CPLR4518(c) and CPLR4520 as in keeping with the pertinent provisions of the Constitution with regard due process of law.

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