Pennsylvania Supreme Court decides DUI case

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees each defendant's right to confront those who testify against him in a criminal trial. In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has decided several cases clarifying the ways in which prosecutors may use lab reports, certificates of analysis and other documents in criminal trials without violating the confrontation clause outlined in the Sixth Amendment. Earlier this summer, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided a case dealing with this issue as it applies to Breathalyzer tests when someone is accused of driving under the influence.

In late 2009, Mary Dyarman was pulled over by a Pennsylvania State Police officer in Cumberland County. The officer determined that she had been drinking and he took her to the Cumberland County Prison for processing. Officers administered a Breathalyzer test, which indicated that Dyarman's blood alcohol content was .117 percent, well over the .08 percent legal limit. She was charged with two counts of DUI.

At trial, the state moved to admit the testimony of the officer who had performed Dyarman's Breathalyzer test, as well as certificates proving the calibration and accuracy of the machine. Dyarman's attorney objected, arguing that the officer was not the person who had performed the calibration of the Breathalyzer machine. According to his argument, simply providing the certificate of calibration without testimony from the person who actually performed the task constituted a violation of Dyarman's Sixth Amendment rights. The trial court disagreed and allowed the certificates into evidence. Dyarman appealed to the state Superior Court.

The Superior Court affirmed the decision of the trial court. The critical question was whether the Breathalyzer certification documents were "testimonial" in nature, in which case the person who performed the calibration would be required to testify. The court explained, however, that these documents were not testimonial because they were not prepared in anticipation of litigation and were not required to prove an element of a criminal case. Rather, the calibration documents were offered simply to prove chain of custody of Dyarman's sample and the accuracy of the machine.

On appeal, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the decisions of the lower courts. Documents such as the ones presented in Dyarman's case are not testimonial. This means that the state may use Breathalyzer calibration certification documents without making the person who performed the maintenance available at trial.

Even though her arguments did not prevail, Dyarman's case demonstrates that even seemingly routine DUI cases can involve highly technical points of law.