State v. Schwarzmeier

State v. Schwarzmeier, 2015 MT 98 (April 7, 2015) (McGrath, C.J.) (5-0, aff’d)

Issue: Whether admission of a crime lab report showing defendant’s blood alcohol content at .193% violated the Confrontation Clause.

Short Answer: No.

Affirmed 

Facts: Schwarzmeier crashed his motorcycle in July 2013. Trooper Fetterhoff responded, and Schwarzmeier was transported to the hospital, where Fetterhoff performed nystagmus tests, which indicated a high level of intoxication. Schwarzmeier consented to a blood draw, which was sent to the crime lab and showed a BAC of .193.

Schwarzmeier entered a not guilty plea and moved in limine to exclude any reports from the crime lab on the grounds that the state did not provide written notice of its intention to offer the report into evidence as required by M.R. Evid. 803(6). 

At a June 2014 bench trial, before the court ruled on Schwarzmeier’s motion in limine, the state amended the charge from DUI (§ 61-8-401, MCA) to operation of a noncommercial vehicle with an alcohol concentration of .08 or more (§ 61-8-406, MCA). The crime lab report was admitted over Schwarzmeier’s hearsay objection, and crime lab toxicologist Kurtz testified. The justice court found Schwarzmeier guilty.

Procedural Posture & Holding: Schwarzmeier appealed to the district court, challenging admission of the crime lab evidence. The district court affirmed, concluding Schwarzmeier could not reasonably claim he was unaware that Kurtz would testify as to defendant’s BAC and noting that the state disclosed the report in discovery and listed Kurtz as an expert witness. Schwarzmeier appeals, and the Supreme Court affirms.

Reasoning: Schwarzmeier had the opportunity to question Kurtz and assess the methodology and veracity of the test results through cross-examination. Hearsay rules are designed to protect against injustices such as prosecution by ex parte testimony. The hearsay rules were not violated by the admission of the crime lab report. Schwarzmeier’s Confrontation Clause rights were protected when the crime lab report’s author testified and was subject to cross examination.