Massachusetts Appeals Court Cites Melendez-Diaz in Firearm Possession Case

by dave on November 19, 2009

in General

The Melendez-Diaz decision continues to reverberate in criminal court cases that use documentary evidence without expert testimony. In Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Hollister, the Massachusetts Appeals Court determined that a certified document of ballistic evidence in a gun possession case violated the defendants right to confront his accuser, as outlined in Melendez-Diaz.

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Creative Commons License photo credit: Ultor83

The case involves a defendant, Mr. Hollister, who was accused of unlawful possession of a firearm and carrying a firearm without a license. He allowed the police to search his vehicle, where they found a loaded gun in his glove compartment. He was originally convicted of these Massachusetts firearms offenses, but the Appeals Court overturned that conviction based on the Melendez-Diaz rules of evidence based on certificates of analysis.

In the original Melendez-Diaz case that went all the way to the US Supreme Court, the defendant was accused of drug possession (cocaine), and drug certification certificate was submitted by a forensic analyst that stated that the substance was in fact, an illegal controlled substance under the statute. The courts determined that the defendant can’t be convicted solely based on evidence from a document that can’t be challenged, contradicted, or cross-examined.

Subsequently, this standard of evidence has been required in a variety of criminal cases nationwide where forensic evidence in the form of documented scientific analysis must be backed up by expert testimony. The analyst who performed the analysis in the document must be present as a witness to explain the facts, and answer challenges to the validity of the evidence and methodology.

Drug analysis and DUI breath test evidence analysis have been the most common defense challenges under Melendez-Diaz.

In this case, it was a ballistic certification in the case that was submitted as evidence that the handgun possessed by Mr Hollister was in fact a functioning weapon under Massachusetts firearms laws. But the appeals court decided that without the testimony of the expert who certified the weapon, that evidence was insufficient to sustain a conviction.

Via Universal Hub and Mass Lawyers Weekly

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