Kenneth Vercammen & Associates, P.C.
2053 Woodbridge Avenue - Edison, NJ 08817
(732) 572-0500
Kenneth Vercammen was included in the “Super Lawyers” list published by Thomson Reuters

Sunday, November 25, 2007


ABA General Practice, Solo and Small Firm Division American Bar Association

Brian T Hermanson Ponca City, Oklahoma Chair
(580) 762-0020
Kenneth Vercammen, Esq. Deputy Chair / co- Editor Edison, NJ

In this Issue:
1. Hearsay Not Admissible at Trial based on Crawford Decision
2. Consequences of a Criminal Guilty Plea in Superior Court

1. Hearsay Not Admissible at Trial based on Crawford Decision
By Kenneth Vercammen, Esq.

Prior to 2004, in Municipal Court and criminal cases, statements and documents could often be introduced into evidence over defense counsel’s objection. In the landmark decision of Crawford v. Washington. 541 U.S. 36 (2004) the United States Supreme Court ruled that testimonial hearsay may not be admitted against a defendant at trial unless the declarant is unavailable and the defendant has had a prior opportunity for cross examination.

In Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S. Ct. 1354, 158 L. Ed. 2d 177 (2004), the United States Supreme Court addressed the protections afforded by the Confrontation Clause. The defendant in Crawford was charged with assault and attempted murder; defendant was convicted of assault. Id. at 38, 124 S. Ct. at 1357, 158 L. Ed. 2d at 184. The trial judge admitted a tape-recorded statement of the defendant's wife, given to police while she was herself a suspect, after the judge found the statement reliable. Id. at 38-40, 124 S. Ct. at 1356-58, 158 L. Ed. 2d at 184-86. 
 The Court held that "[admitting statements deemed reliable by a judge is fundamentally at odds with the right of confrontation." Id. at 61, 124 S. Ct. at 1370, 158 L. Ed. 2d at 199. "Dispensing with confrontation because testimony is obviously reliable is akin to dispensing with jury trial because a defendant is obviously guilty." Id. at 62, 124 S. Ct. at 1371, 158 L. Ed. 2d at 199. The Court reversed defendant's conviction. Id. at 68-69, 124 S. Ct. at 1374, 158 L. Ed. 2d at 203. In Crawford, the Court's express holding applied only to "testimonial" evidence:
Where nontestimonial hearsay is at issue, it is wholly consistent with the Framers' design to afford the States flexibility in their development of hearsay law — . . . as would an approach that exempted such statements from Confrontation Clause scrutiny altogether. Where testimonial evidence is at issue, however, the Sixth Amendment demands what the common law required: unavailability and a prior opportunity for cross-examination. We leave for another day any effort to spell out a comprehensive definition of "testimonial." [541 U.S. at 68, 124 S. Ct. at 1374, 158 L. Ed 2d at 203 (footnote omitted)].
In Crawford: “the United States Supreme Court sharply departed from its prior view of how hearsay exceptions could be reconciled with the Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment. The Confrontation Clause provides that “[i]n all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” Before Crawford, the Supreme Court had held that hearsay did not offend the Confrontation Clause if the out-of-court statement fell within a “firmly rooted hearsay exception” or bore “particularized guarantees of trustworthiness.” Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U.S. 56, 66, 100 S. Ct. 2531, 2538, 65 L. Ed. 2d 597, 608 (1980). Now, under Crawford, testimonial statements made by witnesses absent from trial may be “admitted only where the declarant is unavailable, and only where the defendant has had a prior opportunity to cross-examine.” 541 U.S. at 59, 124 S. Ct. at 1369, 158 L. Ed. 2d at 197. In Crawford, the Court did not precisely define “testimonial statements,” but it provided this guidance: “Whatever else the term [testimonial] covers, it applies at a minimum to prior testimony at a preliminary hearing, before a grand jury, or at a former trial, and to police interrogations.” 541 U.S. at 68, 124 S. Ct. at 1374, 158 L. Ed. 2d at 203.

The US Supreme Court in 2006 next had the opportunity to determine hearsay issues when the court was petitioned to decide if 911 calls are admissible if the witness will not come to court.

In Davis v. Washington 126 S. Ct. 2266 (2006) the court held 911 Calls Sometimes Admissible and Not Hearsay. The Court elaborated on the meaning of testimonial:

Statements are nontestimonial when made in the course of police interrogation under circumstances objectively indicating that the primary purpose of the interrogation is to enable police assistance to meet an ongoing emergency. They are testimonial when the circumstances objectively indicate that there is no such ongoing emergency, and that the primary purpose of the interrogation is to establish or prove past events potentially relevant to later criminal prosecution.
[Id. at ____, 126 S. Ct. at 2273-74, 165 L. Ed. 2d at 237.]

The New Jersey Appellate Division on March 6, 2006 had previously determined that an Eyewitness 911 Call to Report Attack Admissible as an Excited Utterance. State in the Interest of J.A 385 NJ Super. 544 (App. Div. 2006)

In this adjudication of delinquency, the non testifying eyewitness's description of an assailant -- which was made to the police by phone while he witnessed the attack and pursued the fleeing suspect -- was a present sense impression under N.J.R.E. 803(c)(1) and an excited utterance under N.J.R.E. 803(c)(2), and its admission into evidence did not violate the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Crawford v. Washington. 541 U.S. 36 (2004).

Certification has been granted by the NJ Supreme Court in the J.A. case. The New Jersey Supreme Court is hearing several other appeals on the Crawford admissibility issue.

In State v Buda 389 NJ Super. 241 (App. Div. 2006) the Court held that an excited utterance made by a 3 year old child abuse victim to a DYFS worker at a hospital, although admissible under state evidence law, is inadmissible in this case as a result of evolving federal constitutional jurisprudence under Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S. Ct. 1354, 158 L. Ed. 2d 177 (2004), and Davis Ed. 2d 224 (2006). Certification to the NJ Supreme Court was also granted on May 21, 2007.

Under Caselaw decided in 1985, a lab certificate was admitted in DWI cases as a business record under N.J.R.E. 803(c)(6) and as a public record under N.J.R.E. 803(c)(8).
In State v. Berezansky 386 NJ Super. 84 (App. Div. 2006) there was a challenge to the admissibility of a DWI blood test result. The court held the Chemist’s Testimony is Required in DWI Blood Case if an objection is filed by the defense.
Based on the Crawford decision, the Appellate Division in Berezansky determined that a conviction for driving while intoxicated based on a blood test had to be reversed and remanded for a new trial because the defendant’s right of confrontation was violated by admitting into evidence a lab certificate that attested to his blood alcohol content without giving him the opportunity to cross- examine the chemist who analyzed his blood sample and prepared the certificate. Crawford v. Washington requires state to introduce live testimony by the chemist in blood cases.

The Court rejected the State's reliance upon the business record or government record exceptions to the hearsay rule to permit the admission of the lab certificate. The rationale for those exceptions is that such a document is likely to be reliable because it was prepared and preserved in the ordinary course of the operation of a business or governmental entity, and not created primarily as evidence for trial. See N.J.R.E. 803(c)(6). See generally Biunno, Current N.J. Rules of Evidence, comment 1 to N.J.R.E. 803(c)(6); comment 2 to N.J.R.E. 803(c)(8) (2005). The certificate at issue is not a record prepared or maintained in the ordinary course of government business; it was prepared specifically in order to prove an element of the crime and offered in lieu of producing the qualified individual who actually performed the test.
 Here, defendant not only was denied his constitutional right to confront the certificate's preparer, he was not even afforded an adequate opportunity to challenge the certificate's reliability, because the State failed to provide requested documentation regarding the laboratory analysis of the blood. The Court also noted by analogy, N.J.S.A. 2C:35-19c requires the prosecutor to provide a defendant with all documentation relating to a proffered lab certificate as a condition for admission of that certificate attesting to the identification of a controlled dangerous substance.
Certification has been granted in Berezansky.

The next major case to examine the Crawford case was State v. Renshaw 390 NJ Super. 456 (App. Div. 2007). In this case the state introduced a certificate signed by a Nurse who drew blood. The Court held that the admission in evidence of the Uniform Certification for Bodily Specimens Taken in a Medically Acceptable Manner, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A: 62A-11, without the opportunity for cross-examination of the nurse who drew the blood, and over the objection of defendant, runs afoul of the right of confrontation protected both by the United States and the New Jersey Constitutions. Therefore, the Nurse Can Be Required to Testify in DWI Blood Case.

Another case where the Court Ruled that Defendant Can Contest DWI Blood Lab Reports As Hearsay was State v. Kent 391 NJ Super. 352 (App. Div. 2007)
Defendant was convicted of DWI following a single-car rollover accident, and the Law Division affirmed his conviction. At the municipal trial, the State placed into evidence, among other proofs, (1) a blood sample certificate pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2A: 62A-11 from a private hospital employee who had extracted blood from defendant and (2) reports from a State Police laboratory that had tested the blood samples. The authors of those hearsay documents did not appear at trial.

The court reaffirmed the holdings in State v. Renshaw, 390 N.J. Super. 456 (App. Div. 2007) (regarding blood sample certificates) and in State v. Berezansky, 385 N.J. Super. 84 (App. Div. 2006) (regarding State Police laboratory reports) concluding that the hearsay documents are "testimonial" under Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), and that defendant was thus deprived of his right of confrontation under the Sixth Amendment.
The court also noted that unless our Supreme Court determines otherwise, the confrontation clause of Article I, Paragraph 10 of the New Jersey Constitution does not appear to independently require such cross-examination beyond current federal precedents interpreting the Sixth Amendment. Additionally, the court recommends that legislative and/or rule-making initiatives be pursued to avoid placing undue testimonial burdens on health care workers and law enforcement personnel who may create documents relevant to drunk driving prosecutions.

However, Defendant's DWI conviction in Renshaw was affirmed on independent grounds, based upon the arresting officer's numerous observations indicative of defendant's intoxication, and defendant's admission of drinking.

In DWI breathalyzer cases, for decades DWI breathalyzer certificates were admitted as an exception to Hearsay Rules. Based on Crawford, the Appellate Division revisited the admissibility of these paper certificates. In State v. Dorman, 393 NJ Super. 28 (App. Div. 2007) the court held Hearsay Rules do not apply to Breathalyzer certs. In this DWI appeal, the court held that notwithstanding the Supreme Court's holding in Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 68-69, 124 S. Ct. 1354, 1374, 158 L. Ed. 2d 177, 203 (2004), a breathalyzer machine certificate of operability offered by the State to meet its burden of proof under State v. Garthe, 1 N.J. 1 (1996), remains admissible as a business record under N.J.R.E. 803(c)(6).

The NJ Supreme Court also granted Certification in unreported cases on the same issue, State v. Sweet, A-0091-05. In Sweet, the Breathalyzer Inspection Certification were also found to be admissible outside of Crawford.

Kenneth A. Vercammen is a Middlesex County trial attorney who has published 125 articles in national and New Jersey publications on business and litigation topics. He often lectures to trial lawyers of the American Bar
Association, New Jersey State Bar Association and Middlesex County Bar Association.

He is a highly regarded lecturer on litigation issues for the American Bar Association, ICLE, New Jersey State Bar Association and Middlesex County Bar Association. His articles have been published by New Jersey Law Journal, ABA Law Practice Management Magazine, and New Jersey Lawyer. He is the Editor in Chief of the New Jersey Municipal Court Law Review. Mr. Vercammen is a recipient of the NJSBA- YLD Service to the Bar Award.
He has served as a Special Acting Prosecutor in nine different cities and towns in New Jersey and also successfully handled over One thousand Municipal Court and Superior Court matters in the past 12 years.
In his private practice, he has devoted a substantial portion of his
professional time to the preparation and trial of litigated matters. He has
appeared in Courts throughout New Jersey several times each week on personal injury matters, Municipal Court trials, and contested Probate hearings.

2. Consequences of a Criminal Guilty Plea in Lower criminal courts Court
Some individuals don’t want to spend money to hire an attorney, but instead just plead guilty at their initial court appearance. They should read the following before representing themselves:
1 If you plead guilty you will have a criminal record
2. Before the judge can accept your guilty plea, you will have to stand up in open court and tell the judge what you did that makes you guilty of the particular offense in front of all persons in the courtroom.
3. You can go to jail, pay thousands of dollars in fines, and may be barred from future employment
3. You may not be able to get a job as a teacher, public employee, banking industry, real estate or other state regulated field.
4. On employment applications, you will have to answer yes that you were convicted of a criminal offense.
5. You must pay a $75 Safe Neighborhood Services Fund assessment for each conviction. You must pay a minimum Violent Crimes Compensation Board assessment of $50 ($100 minimum if you are convicted of a crime of violence) for each count to which you plead guilty in many states.
6. If you are being sentenced to probation, you must pay a fee of up to $25 per month for the term of probation in many states.
7 In many drug cases, the statute requires mandatory driver’s license suspension. New Jersey does not have a special license to go to work or school.
8. In indictable matters, you will be required to provide a DNA sample, which could be used by law enforcement for the investigation of criminal activity, and pay for the cost of testing in many states.
9. You must pay restitution if the court finds there is a victim who has suffered a loss.
10. If you are a public office holder or employee, you can be required to forfeit your office or job by virtue of your plea of guilty.
11. If you are not a United States citizen or national, you may be deported by virtue of your plea of guilty.

The Criminal Law Committee helps to keep solo and small firms members updated on criminal law and procedure. Programs presented by the committee are basic "how to's" on handling your first criminal law case, or answering questions from your clients when criminal law issues arise in the general practice context. We welcome all who wish to participate and accept all suggestions for programming ideas.
Brian T Hermanson Ponca City, OK Chair
(580) 762-0020

Kenneth Vercammen, Esq. Deputy Chair / co- Editor
2053 Woodbridge Ave.
Edison, NJ 08817
(Phone) 732-572-0500
(Fax) 732-572-0030