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State in Interest of J.H.

Decided: October 30, 1990.

STATE OF NEW JERSEY IN THE INTEREST OF J.H., JUVENILE-APPELLANT


On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Gloucester County.

Gaulkin, Havey and Skillman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Skillman, J.A.D.

Skillman

[244 NJSuper Page 211] This appeal involves the operation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-19, which provides for the admission into evidence of certificates reporting laboratory analyses of alleged controlled dangerous substances, in light of the requirements of the Confrontation Clause of the United States Constitution.

J.H. was found guilty of juvenile delinquency by committing an act which, if committed by an adult, would constitute possession of a controlled dangerous substance, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-10a(1). The court sentenced him to a six month suspension of his driver's license, a $1,000 DEDR penalty, a $15 Violent Crimes Compensation Board penalty and a $25 laboratory fee.*fn1

The juvenile was apprehended after he fled at the sight of a police officer and ran home. As the juvenile was entering his house with the officer in pursuit, he dropped a plastic package containing a white powdery substance. A police officer who performed a field test on the substance reported that it was "not positive for cocaine." However, a State Police forensic scientist subsequently concluded on the basis of a laboratory test that the substance was cocaine. A "certified laboratory report" of the State Police analysis was admitted into evidence over the objection of the juvenile.

In admitting the laboratory certificate into evidence, the trial court relied exclusively upon N.J.S.A. 2C:35-19, a section of the Comprehensive Drug Reform Act of 1986, L. 1987, c. 106, which provides that the certificate of an employee of a state forensic laboratory shall "be admissible evidence of the composition, quality, and quantity of the substance submitted to the laboratory for analysis." N.J.S.A. 2C:35-19b. A party intending to offer such a certificate must give notice of that intention to the opposing party at least 20 days before the proceeding begins. N.J.S.A. 2C:35-19c.*fn2 The opposing party then has 10 days to

object and to state "the grounds for the objection." Ibid. "A proffered certificate shall be admitted in evidence unless it appears from the notice of objection and specific grounds for that objection that the composition, quality, or quantity of the substance submitted to the laboratory for analysis will be contested at trial." Ibid.

The juvenile's only argument on appeal is that his rights under the Confrontation Clauses of the United States and New Jersey Constitutions were violated by the admission of the certified laboratory report pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:35-19.*fn3

The Supreme Court of the United States has consistently held that the Confrontation Clause of the United States Constitution "does not necessarily prohibit the admission of hearsay statements against a criminal defendant." Idaho v. Wright, 497 U.S. 805, 110 S. Ct. 3139, 111 L. Ed. 2d 638, 651 (1990). Generally, for hearsay to be admissible under the Confrontation Clause, the state must show both that the hearsay has sufficient "indicia of reliability" to warrant its admission and that the declarant is unavailable. Ohio v. Roberts, 448 U.S. 56, 100 S. Ct. 2531, 65 L. Ed. 2d 597 (1980). But some forms of hearsay are considered sufficiently reliable to satisfy the requirements of the Confrontation Clause without showing the unavailability of the declarant. See United States v. Inadi, 475 U.S. 387, 106 S. Ct. 1121, 89 L. Ed. 2d 390 (1986). Thus, the threshold requirement for admission of any hearsay is a showing of reliability. Idaho v. Wright, supra; Bourjaily v. United States, 483 U.S. 171, 181-184, 107 S. Ct. 2775, 2782-2783,

97 L. Ed. 2d 144, 156-158 (1987). This requirement can be satisfied either by a showing that "the hearsay statement 'falls within a firmly rooted hearsay exception,' or . . . by 'a showing of particularized guarantees of trustworthiness.'" Idaho v. Wright, supra, 497 U.S. 805, 110 S. Ct. 3139, 111 L. Ed. 2d at 653, quoting Ohio v. Roberts, supra, 448 U.S. at 66, 100 S. Ct. at 2539, 65 L. Ed. 2d at 608.

A laboratory report offered in evidence to prove the composition, quality or quantity of an alleged controlled dangerous substance is hearsay. Evid.R. 63. Therefore, the party offering the evidence must establish its admissibility under a hearsay exception. And where the State offers such evidence in a criminal trial, it also must satisfy the requirements of the Confrontation Clause by showing that the hearsay exception is "firmly rooted" or, alternatively, that the evidence possesses ...


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