OAS and the Confrontation Clause

The State’s ability to prove a person was operating after suspension is in jeopardy.  To prove a charge of operating after suspension (OAS) the State is required to prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the Defendant operated a motor vehicle on a public way or in a parking area when that person’s license was suspended or revoked and the Defendant had knowledge or notice of the suspension.  Knowledge or notice of suspension usually consists of a letter from the Secretary of State to the Defendant at their last known address advising the Defendant of the suspension.  Typically, that means at trial the State would call the police officer who observed the accused driving to testify that he/she observed the accused driving on a public way or parking area.  The State would then move for the admission of what we call the “blue seal”.  The blue seal is a document from the Secretary of State attesting that the Defendant’s right to operate a motor vehicle in the Maine was suspended or revoked at the time of the allegation and that notice of the suspension was mailed to the Defendant’s last known address.  No witness was required to testify that the notice was actually mailed.  It did not matter that the Defendant never actually received the notice of suspension.  The blue seal was, and is, a witness against the Defendant that was never subjected to cross-examination.

However, the Supreme Court reversed precedent regarding the interpretation of the Confrontation Clause when the Court decidedCrawford v. Washington in 2004 and Davis v. Wahsington 2004.  Both of these decisions broaden the scope of the right to confront witnesses against you.  However, the Maine Law Court (Maine’s Supreme Court) interpreted Crawford and Davis as not precluding the State from proving OAS cases by admitting the blue seal without a live witness in State v. Taymen in 2008 andState v. Knight in early 2009.

The Supreme Court provided further guidance on the Confrontation Clause and its decisions in Crawford and Davis when it decided Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts in mid-2009.  In Melendez-Diaz the Supreme Court found the admission of a drug certificate attesting to a lab result indicating that a drug is a particular substance violated the Confrontation Clause.  The Supreme Court held the Confrontation Clause requires that a witness testify as to the lab testing and what the drug tested as.

It is easily to conclude that if the admission of a lab test result without a witness testifying violates the Confrontation Clause than the admission of the blue seal would violate the Confrontation Clause as well.  However, this issue has not been decided in the State of Maine.  However, the Law Court currently has a case pending before it regarding this issue.

This is an oversimplification of the cases cited in here and the legal analysis required.  If you are charged with Operating After Suspension (OAS) or Operating After Habitual Motor Vehicle Revocation (HO or OAR) call my office today for assistance.  My practice is limited to criminal defense and I know how to protect your rights.

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