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Name: People v. Benitez
Case #: G041201
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 02/24/2010
Subsequent History: rev. granted 5/12/10 (S181137)
Summary

In a prosecution for possession of a controlled substance, the laboratory report of the substance is testimonial, such that the defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to confront the actual analyst who performed the analysis and completed the report. Appellant was charged with possession of methamphetamine and at the jury trial, the supervisor of the analyst who analyzed the controlled substance testified as to the contents of the report prepared by the analyst. The supervisor did not take part in the analysis or observe the procedure. A single-page document (the RFA), containing chain of custody information and identifying the submitted substance as containing methamphetamine, was introduced. Initially, the court affirmed the judgment, finding no Sixth Amendment violation. However, the Supreme Court granted review and directed the appellate court to reconsider in light of Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts (2009) 557 U.S. __ [129 S.Ct. 2527, 174 L.Ed.2d 314]. This time, the court agreed that the report was testimonial as it was used against appellant to establish an element of the offense and the analyst prepared it knowing its sole purpose was criminal prosecution. The court rejected the prosecution’s argument that the existence of an established hearsay exception, such as a business record exception, creates an exception to confrontation clause requirements. The court further observed that Confrontation Clause violations are subject to harmless error analysis and, here, because the admission of the supervisor’s testimony and summary of the analysis were critical to establishing that the substance was methamphetamine, the error was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt and the conviction was reversed.