Commonwealth v. Verde

Decision Date19 May 2005
Citation827 NE 2d 701,444 Mass. 279
CourtUnited States State Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Supreme Court


Pamela Lindmark for the defendant.

Michelle R. King, Assistant District Attorney, for the Commonwealth.

The following submitted briefs for amici curiae:

John P. Zanini, Donald LaRoche, Robert C. Thompson, & Mary Lee, Assistant District Attorneys, for the District Attorney for the Suffolk District & others.

Thomas F. Reilly, Attorney General, & Susanne G. Reardon, Assistant Attorney General, for the Attorney General & another.


This appeal raises the question whether, in light of Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004) (Crawford), the confrontation clause of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution requires that laboratory technicians who analyze drugs seized as part of a criminal investigation authenticate their laboratory findings by appearing at a defendant's trial. Because we conclude that a drug certificate is akin to a business record and the confrontation clause is not implicated by this type of evidence, we answer in the negative and affirm the conviction.

After a Superior Court jury convicted the defendant of trafficking in cocaine (in an amount over one hundred but less than 200 grams), the trial judge sentenced the defendant to from ten to twelve years. The defendant appealed, claiming a number of errors, and we transferred this case from the Appeals Court on our own motion.

Facts and procedural background.

We recount the relevant facts, reserving certain details for our discussion. On July 25, 1997, the Worcester police executed a search warrant at the defendant's residence. After receiving the Miranda warnings, the defendant told police he had one-half ounce of cocaine in his pocket, which the police confiscated. In a bureau in the defendant's bedroom, the police found items commonly used in the drug trade, including a "cutting agent," a brown paper bag with "chunks" of "crack" cocaine and "regular" cocaine, a scale, packaging material, and plastic baggies. The police also found $15,615 in cash and a bankbook. These items were photographed before being removed from the bureau drawer. The white powder substances found in the bureau and in the defendant's pocket were analyzed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School laboratory. One substance was determined to be 90.96 grams of cocaine and the substance from the defendant's pocket was determined to be 13.77 grams of cocaine. The analysis of another substance removed from the bureau drawer indicated that it did not contain drugs.

At trial, pursuant to G. L. c. 111, § 113,1 the Commonwealth introduced two certificates of analysis from the University of Massachusetts Medical School laboratory showing the weight of the cocaine. The defendant, in turn, submitted the certificate of analysis of the other substance, indicating that it was not a narcotic but rather lidocaine (the dilutant). Although admitting that he had one-half ounce of cocaine on his person, the defendant testified that he only had twenty-eight grams in his bureau. His defense was that the police mixed lidocaine with the cocaine in the bureau into "a big ball" to arrive at the total amount of 90.96 grams.

The defendant's expert went to the University of Massachusetts Medical School laboratory on the first day of the trial to weigh the drugs himself. The expert testified that the first scale he used was not functioning properly, but that he was able to get an accurate reading from a second scale. The total weight of the cocaine, when weighed by the defendant's expert, was 102 grams. He testified that the difference in the amount from the 104.73 grams determined by the chemist was likely due to the evaporation of a "volatile material" mixed with the cocaine. Although the defendant's expert agreed that the total weight was more than one hundred grams, he testified that he thought the concentration of cocaine stated on the certificate of analysis was misleading. However, he further testified that he could not determine how inaccurate it might be because he "didn't have enough time to really study all the data" and a piece of data was missing regarding how the analyst made the standard concentrations for quantifying the cocaine in the sample.

The laboratory manager at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, a rebuttal witness for the prosecution, testified that the chemist who analyzed the drugs was unavailable to testify because she was on maternity leave. He further testified that he personally examined the test results as to the purity and weight of drugs and he agreed with the results reported on the certificates.


1. Confrontation clause. The defendant argues that the admission of the drug certificates of analysis denied him his constitutional right to confrontation because the chemist who analyzed the substances and prepared the certificates did not testify.2 This issue was presented first to this court in Commonwealth v. Slavski, 245 Mass. 405 (1923), and again nearly fifty years later in Commonwealth v. Harvard, 356 Mass. 452 (1969). In both cases, this court held that because the records relating to the analysis of intoxicating liquor or drugs were merely records of primary fact, with no judgment or discretion on the part of the analysts, and were admitted only as prima facie evidence, their admission did not violate a defendant's right to confrontation. See Commonwealth v. Harvard, supra at 461-463; Commonwealth v. Slavski, supra at 417-418. The defendant, however, argues that these cases no longer apply because of the United States Supreme Court's recent decision in Crawford, supra at 61, 68, holding that "testimonial" hearsay statements are barred under the confrontation clause unless the witness is unavailable and the defendant had a prior opportunity to cross-examine the witness, regardless of whether the statements are deemed reliable by the court. We disagree with the defendant's proposed application of Crawford to evidence of this nature.

Although the Court left "for another day any effort to spell out a comprehensive definition of `testimonial,'" it provided that the term "applies at a minimum to prior testimony at a preliminary hearing, before a grand jury, or at a former trial; and to police interrogations." Id. at 68. The Court noted that "[t]hese are the modern practices with closest kinship to the abuses at which the Confrontation Clause was directed." Id. However, the Court also recognized that "[t]here were always exceptions to the general rule of exclusion" of hearsay evidence and that several were well established when the confrontation clause was enacted. Id. at 56. Specifically, the Court suggested in dictum that a business or official record would not be subject to its holding as this exception was well established in 1791. Id.3

One acknowledged exception to the confrontation clause is a public record, "an ancient principle of the common law, recognized at the time of the adoption of the Constitution." Commonwealth v. Slavski, supra at 415, citing J. Wigmore, Evidence §§ 1395-1398 (1923). See Commonwealth v. Bergstrom, 402 Mass. 534, 545 (1988) (noting public records and dying declarations as acknowledged exceptions to confrontation requirements when Massachusetts Constitution was adopted). In addition, it is well established in Massachusetts that "a record of a primary fact made by a public officer in the performance of official duty is or may be made by legislation competent prima facie evidence as to the existence of that fact." Commonwealth v. Slavski, supra at 417. However, "records of investigations and inquiries conducted, either voluntarily or pursuant to requirement of law, by public officers concerning causes and effects involving the exercise of judgment and discretion, expressions of opinion, and making conclusions are not admissible in evidence as public records." Id.

Certificates of chemical analysis are neither discretionary nor based on opinion; rather, they merely state the results of a well-recognized scientific test determining the composition and quantity of the substance. Commonwealth v. Harvard, supra at 462. See Commonwealth v. Westerman, 414 Mass. 688, 699-700 (1993). Additionally, the certificate is admissible only as prima facie evidence of the composition, quality, and weight of the substance, G. L. c. 22C, § 39, which a defendant may rebut if he doubts its correctness, as the defendant did in this case. Accordingly, these drug certificates are well within the public records exception to the confrontation clause.4

Furthermore, we do not believe that the admission of these certificates of analysis implicate "the principal evil at which the Confrontation Clause was directed . . . particularly its use of ex parte examinations as evidence against the accused." Crawford, supra at 50. The documentary evidence at issue here has very little kinship to the type of hearsay the confrontation clause intended to exclude, absent an opportunity for cross-examination. Id. at 51-53. Rather, it is akin to a business or official record, which the Court stated was not testimonial in nature. Id. at 56.

In this case, the only defense was that, while the defendant possessed cocaine, he did not have more than one hundred grams of cocaine. The defendant was free to rebut the information in the certificate, and indeed did so. The substance itself was available for the defendant's expert to weigh and analyze. Having done so, the defendant's expert testified that there were over one hundred grams of cocaine.5 He disputed only the purity of the cocaine as recorded on the certificate. Contrary to the defendant's argument, the analyst was not required to testify simply because the defendant offered evidence to rebut the certificate. Rather, as the judge properly...

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  • State v. Caulfield, No. A04-1484.
    • United States
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    • October 5, 2006
    ...lab reports are not testimonial. But these cases seem to wrongly focus on the reliability of such reports. See Commonwealth v. Verde, 444 Mass. 279, 827 N.E.2d 701, 705 (2005) (holding that drug certificates "merely state the results of a well-recognized scientific test determining the comp......
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1 books & journal articles
  • After Crawford: using the confrontation clause in Massachusetts courts.
    • United States
    • Suffolk Journal of Trial & Appellate Advocacy No. 12, January 2007
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    ...drug certifications were nontestimonial because they were nondiscretionary records of primary fact. See Commonwealth v. Verde, 444 Mass. 279, 827 N.E.2d 701 (2005). This view has been affirmed and expanded to prior records of conviction and toxicology reports. See Commonwealth v, Crapps, 64......

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