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CA Case Summary: Miyamoto; Trustworthiness and Database Records

Posted by rjbiii on October 2, 2009

Miyamoto v. Department of Motor Vehicles, 176 Cal. App. 4th 1210, 1212 (Cal. App. 6th Dist. 2009)

JXN: State Court, California

Procedural Standing: Appeal by DMV from a trial court ruling granting of writ of administrative mandamus and ordering DMV to set aside its order to suspend defendant’s driver’s license after being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol. The trial court ruled that the forensic laboratory report (Lab Report) of Miyamoto’s blood test results was inadmissible hearsay and that the Lab Report failed to meet the requirements of the public employee records exception to the hearsay rule (CA_Evid_Code_§_1280) because the DMV did not establish that the Lab Report was prepared at or near the time of the analysis of Miyamoto’s blood sample.

Facts of the Case: Defendant driver was pulled over for speeding, and arrested after “performing poorly” in a field sobriety test. The police dept. obtained blood samples from defendant, and had them analyzed for alcohol content. The analyses found that Miyamoto’s blood-alcohol content was twice the legal limit.

The Lab Report contained the following certification: “I, the undersigned certify under penalty of perjury that the above blood … analysis reported herein was performed during the regular course of my duties and is a true and correct representation of the results of my analysis. I further certify that I am a qualified … Forensic Alcohol Analyst (FAA) … employed by the Santa Clara County Crime Laboratory. The equipment used to perform the analysis was in proper working order at the time the analysis was performed and the recording of the analysis results was done at the time of the analysis. I further certify that the transfer of data for reporting purposes was performed electronically in accord with the laboratory’s policies and procedures.” The Lab Report was signed by “R. Desai, FAA.” The signature line, which included a line for the analyst to enter the “Date of review/report,” contained a handwritten date: “3/26/07.” The Lab Report contained the name of the “reviewer,” “Joyner.” A box in the middle of the report indicated that the “Date Printed” was “4/26/2007.”

Procedural History:At Miyamoto’s administrative hearing, the only contested issue was whether Miyamoto was driving with a blood-alcohol content of 0.08 percent or more. Miyamoto objected to the admission of the Lab Report as inadmissible for two reasons:
1. The report was hearsay because it was “untrustworthy” under Evid. Code § 1280(c) because it was certified 32 days before it was printed; and
2. The report wasn’t forwarded by the lab to the DMV within 15 days of the arrest, as required by the Vehicle Code.

The DMV hearing officer rejected Miyamoto’s objections, ruling that the report was admissible, and upholding the suspension of the defendant’s driving license.

Miyamoto petitioned the superior court for a writ of mandate to set aside the suspension order. Miyamoto argued that the Lab Report was not admissible under the public employee records exception to the hearsay rule for two reasons.
First, he asserted that the document was untrustworthy under Evid. Code § 1280(c) because although it was certified on March 26, 2007, it was not printed until April 26, 2007. Miyamoto argued that “[i]t is physically impossible for a person to sign a document which is not yet in existence.” Second, Miyamoto argued that even if the Lab Report was prepared on March 26, 2007, it was not admissible under the public employee records exception because it was not prepared “at or near the time” of the testing under Evid. Code § 1280(d), which occurred on March 23, 2007. He argued that since the Lab Report contained the only evidence of his blood-alcohol content and should have been excluded, there was insufficient evidence to support the hearing officer’s finding that he was driving with a blood-alcohol content in excess of 0.08 percent.

The DMV opposed the petition, arguing that Miyamoto’s contentions were “without merit because the lab report expressly states that the recording of the analysis results was done at the time the analysis was performed.” The DMV argued that Miyamoto’s contentions were based on a mistaken interpretation of the report and that March 26, 2007, was not the date the lab results were reported but the date they were reviewed by the “reviewer.”

The court sided with defendant, finding that the Lab Report was “insufficient to meet the requirements of Evidence Code Section 1280, [subdivision] (b) because it does not establish that it was prepared at or near the time of the analysis and the entry of the data.” The court reasoned that both arguments were “equally probable,” and that the DMV had the burden of proving the report’s admissibility. Having failed to do that convincingly, the court ruled the document was not “trustworthy” under §1280(c) of the Evid. Code. Because it failed to establish that it was prepared at or near the time of the analysis and the entry of the data,” the court granted the writ. The court ordered the DMV to set aside its order suspending Miyamoto’s license, and awarded Miyamoto his costs of suit.

DMV appealed to the appellate court, contending that the trial court erred when it concluded that the Lab Report was inadmissible hearsay and asserts that, as a matter of law, the Lab Report was admissible under section 1280, because the test results were recorded at the time that the test was done. The DMV also contends that after the court found two equally probable interpretations of the March 26, 2007 date on the Lab Report, the court erred in finding in favor of Miyamoto because Miyamoto, not the DMV, had the burden of proof in the trial court.

Findings: The appellate court started by noting that in this case, the appropriate standard for review was the defferential abuse of discretion.

The trial court found that the lab report did not meet the timeliness requirement under § 1280(c) because it did not establish that it was prepared at or near the time of the analysis of the blood sample. The court reasoned that how soon a writing must be made after the act or event is a matter of degree and calls for the exercise of reasonable judgment on the part of the trial judge. This judgment is not to be made arbritrarily or by use of artificial time limits, but rather must take into account practical considerations, such as: the nature of the information recorded; and the immutable reliability of the sources from which the information was drawn. ‘Whether an entry made subsequent to the transaction has been made within a sufficient time to render it within the [hearsay] exception depends upon whether the time span between the transaction and the entry was so great as to suggest a danger of inaccuracy by lapse of memory.

§ 1280 applies to “writings” made as records of acts, conditions or events, and the evidence code defines the term broadly. The term includes: handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostating, photographing, photocopying, transmitting by electronic mail or facsimile, and every other means of recording upon any tangible thing, any form of communication or representation, including letters, words, pictures, sounds, or symbols, or combinations thereof, and any record thereby created, regardless of the manner in which the record has been stored. Here, the writing consists of records from a database, thus the critical date for the purpose of the public employee records exception to the hearsay rule is the date that the test results were first recorded in that database. In reviewing the timeliness requirement, the court should consider the length of time between the act, condition, or event and the date of its recording, not the date of its eventual retrieval by computer printout.

The court reviewed two cases in which the admissibility of lab reports was properly disallowed. In Glatman v. Valverde (2006) 146 Cal.App.4th 700, 703 [53 Cal. Rptr. 3d 319], the motorist’s blood sample was analyzed on July 25, 2005, and analyzed a second time, by another analyst, a day later. Both analysts signed the report, which was dated one week after the first test was done. The DMV argued that the analysts entered the test results into the lab’s computer database shortly after completing each test and that the preparation of the report one week later simply involved retrieving the data from the database. The appellate court disagreed and observed that the record was silent regarding the procedures that the analysts used to record their test results and that there was no evidence that the test results were recorded in a computer database or anywhere else before the report was prepared. The court in that case ruled that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in ruling the report inadmissible.

In Molenda v. Department of Motor Vehicles (2009) 172 Cal.App.4th 974, 987 [91 Cal. Rptr. 3d 792], this same appellate court held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it held that a forensic lab report was inadmissible because it was not prepared at or near the time of the recorded event. In Molenda, “there [was] no evidence the test result was entered into a computer database or recorded in any manner prior to the preparation of the written report, which was done one week after the analysis was completed. The report stated that information regarding the examination and conclusions are entered into and are maintained within the DOJ Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) database. It did not state when the test results were entered into the database. Further, the record was silent regarding the lab’s policies and procedures for recording test results.

Because the trial court, in ruling the report inadmissible, focused on the date of certification rather than the date the results were recorded, it applied the wrong legal standard in drawing its conclusions, and abused its discretion in doing so. The trial court’s decision was reversed, and the case remanded with instructions to deny defendant’s petition for writ of mandamus and reinstate the suspension of his driver’s license.

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