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Name: People v. Ford
Case #: A137422
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 5
Opinion Date: 04/07/2015

Admission into evidence of redacted 1981 autopsy report in murder prosecution does not violate the defendant’s confrontation rights despite absent pathologist. In 2003 Ford was linked to the 1981 rape-murder of Annie Barcelon via DNA evidence collected at the scene of the offense and processed by then-pathologist Dr. Sisson. At his 2012 trial, Ford’s motion to exclude Barcelon’s autopsy report, which was prepared by Dr. Sisson, was denied. Because Dr. Sisson was deceased at the time of Ford’s trial, the current Chief Medical Examiner testified as to cause of death and likelihood of sexual assault, based on Dr. Sisson’s observations in the 1981 report and autopsy photographs. The autopsy report, with the cause of death redacted, was admitted into evidence. Ford was convicted of special circumstance murder. On appeal Ford claimed admission of the 1981 autopsy report violated his confrontation rights. Held: Affirmed. The Sixth Amendment bars the admission at trial of testimonial out-of-court statements against a defendant unless the witness is unavailable and the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the witness. In People v. Dungo (2012) 55 Cal.4th 608, the California Supreme Court held that a defendant’s confrontation rights were not violated by his inability to cross-examine an autopsy report’s author. The court concluded that statements in an autopsy report describing a pathologist’s observations about the condition of the body are not testimonial. The court noted that it did not need to decide whether the entire autopsy report, which also includes statements setting forth the pathologist’s conclusions as to the cause of the victim’s death, is testimonial in nature because the report had not been admitted into evidence. Under Dungo, the trial court’s decision to admit the autopsy report in Ford’s case was correct. The trial court redacted the pathologist’s conclusions regarding cause of death from the report and only statements regarding the condition of the body were admitted. Any error in admitting the redacted autopsy report was harmless in any event.