Florida Court: Confrontation Clause Doesn’t Apply to Air Bag Report – Peterson v. State

The Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution includes an important procedural safeguard for criminal defendants. Known as “The Confrontation Clause,” it states: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” In Peterson v. State, Florida’s Second District Court of Appeals explains that the Clause has its limits, however. It applies only to “testimonial” evidence.

Mr. Peterson was charged with leaving the scene of a crash, vehicular homicide and driving on a license suspended or revoked license following a fatal incident in which he allegedly crashed into another person’s car after running a red light. According to the Appeals Court, evidence was also presented showing that Peterson was intoxicated and speeding at the time of the accident.

At trial, the judge overruled Peterson’s objections and allowed state prosecutors to introduce as evidence a computer-generated air bag control system report providing information about if and when Peterson applied the brakes prior to the accident and how fast he was traveling just before the crash. Peterson had argued that the report was testimonial hearsay and that it violated the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause because he couldn’t confront or cross-examine the computer that created the report. While experts testified about the information generated in the report, he also argued that their testimony was hearsay. Peterson was later convicted on all three charges.

The Second District disagreed with Peterson on appeal. “In order for the Confrontation Clause to apply to the air bag control system report, the report must be deemed ‘testimonial’ in character,” the Court explained. “It is the testimonial character of the statement that separates it from other hearsay that, while subject to traditional limitations upon hearsay evidence, is not subject to the Confrontation Clause.”

Although the term “testimonial” hasn’t been precisely defined, the Court said it clearly applies at minimum to witness testimony in various court proceedings. In 2006, the state’s Fifith District Court of Appeals found in Card v. State that a criminal defendant’s driving record wasn’t testimonial because it didn’t contain expressions of opinion nor conclusions requiring the exercise of discretion. The record also wasn’t made for the purpose of law enforcement to use in prosecution.

Here, the Court said the air bag report was similarly non-testimonial. “[T]he report merely establishes the existence or absence of some objective fact, i.e., if and when the brakes were applied in Peterson’s car before the accident and the speed the car was traveling,” the Court concluded. As a result, it wasn’t covered by the Confrontation Clause. The Court affirmed the trial judge’s ruling.

If you or a loved one is facing criminal charges in the Sunshine State, it is imperative to have a qualified, experienced attorney representing you. The South Florida criminal defense attorneys at Anidjar & Levine have significant experience representing clients in a wide variety of criminal cases, from DUI and vehicular homicide to drug and weapons charges. From our offices in Ft. Lauderdale, we represent clients throughout the region, including in Hialeah, Pompano Beach, Coral Springs and Boca Raton.

Related blog posts:

A Sick Cat and the ‘Necessity’ Defense in Florida DUI Cases – Brooks v. State

Court Reverses Florida Vehicular Homicide Conviction for Lack of Evidence – Stracar v. State

Court Says Florida Can Revoke State Driving Privileges of Non-Resident – Silha v. Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles