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Lab Reports and the Right to Cross Examination

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If a toxicologist reviews a blood sample taken by another specialist and later testifies at trial, it may not violate a driver’s Sixth Amendment rights under the Confrontation Clause. In State v. Michaels, the defendant had struck an oncoming car when she crossed the center line, severely injuring the opposing car’s driver and killing the passenger. The defendant gave permission for a blood sample to be taken and admitted that she had used Xanax and cocaine the night of the accident. The defendant’s blood sample was sent to a lab where analysts tested it and found it contained cocaine and Xanax. The assistant lab director wrote a report determining that, based upon the analysts’ findings, it was unsafe for the defendant to drive a car on the evening of the accident.

At the defendant’s trial, the assistant lab director testified about the blood test results. The defendant moved to strike the assistant lab director’s testimony, arguing that it violated the defendant’s right to cross-examine the analysts who actually performed the testing. The trial court found that the assistant lab director’s testimony was allowed because he was a lab supervisor who knew about the procedures used by the analysts and had independently written the report.

The defendant was found guilty on all counts. On appeal, both the Appellate Division and the New Jersey Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s decision. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that, because the assistant lab director offered to testify to the blood sample report and the defendant had the ability to cross-examine him, the defendant’s constitutional rights were not violated.

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