Blazier III: Blazier Denied Relief under United States v. Blazier

Blazier III: Blazier Denied Relief under United States v. Blazier

Opinion Handed Down by AFCCA on 9 August 2012

In November of 2006 a court martial consisting of officer members convicted Air Force SrA Joshua Blazier of negligent dereliction of duty and wrongful use of ecstasy, methamphetamine and marijuana. He was sentenced to a bad-conduct discharge, reduction to the rank of Airman First Class and 45 days in military confinement (jail).

At trial, the government sought to introduce two Drug-Testing Reports (DTRs) from the Air Force Drug Testing Laboratory. The DTRs each contained a cover memorandum from a "Laboratory Certifying Official" (LCO) stating all tests were properly conducted and the results were properly annotated in the dozens of pages that followed.

The Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF) determined the cover sheet produced by the LCO and some of the following documentation to be "testimonial hearsay," meaning it was produced by someone who is not in the court room at trial, but for the purpose of prosecuting someone at trial. As a result, it is inadmissible at trial.

The Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals (AFCCA) later determined that the LCO's annotation on the DD Form 2624 certifying the test results is also testimonial hearsay. In the Air Force drug testing process, after an "initial screen," if a sample tests positive it is rescreened twice using different testing methods to verify the initial positive result. AFCCA ruled that any reference to these rescreens was testimonial hearsay, since the only reason to do them is to prosecute someone based on the result. They also ruled that the reference by a government expert in forensic toxicology to these matters was testimonial hearsay, and should not have been admitted.

After coming to these conclusions, the AFCCA applied a test from Delaware v. Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. 673, 684 (1986) to determine whether sufficient grounds existed to overturn Blazier's conviction. To do that they looked at the facts of the case and what happened at trial. During his court martial, Blazier admitted that he had a pipe used to smoke marijuana in his residence, and he told investigators where to find it. He also testified that, although he was drunk, he remembered taking a small blue pill given to him by a friend at a party, and taking that pill gave him effects one would expect when taking ecstasy. The appellate court referred to the evidence regarding the drug testing report as a "side show" that didn't weigh on the minds of the jury. They determined the admission of testimonial hearsay in this case was "harmless beyond a reasonable doubt" because it didn't impact the outcome of the case.

As a result, although Blazier is the namesake of a line of cases describing testimonial hearsay and all but banning its use in trial, A1C Blazier ultimately did not get relief from his conviction based on the earlier ruling carrying his name.

If you're seeking assistance with a court martial, contact us for assistance.

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