Municipal Court should not permit written reports to be introduced into evidence
Municipal Court improperly admitted into evidence Drinking Driving Questionnaire (DDQ) and Drinking Driving Report (DDR). State v. Kuropchak 216 N.J. 360 (2015)
Further, because the DDQ and DDR contained inadmissible hearsay, which may have unduly influenced the municipal courts credibility findings, the matter is remanded for a new trial.
…… The court admitted the Drinking Driving Questionnaire (DDQ) and Drinking Driving Report (DDR) into evidence as business records. The court also admitted Officer Britos Alcotest Operator Certification, the Alcotest Calibration Certificate, ……
1. Appellate courts should defer to trial courts credibility findings. Occasionally, however, a trial courts findings may be so clearly mistaken that the interests of justice demand intervention and correction.
4. As for defendant’s contention that the DDR and DDQ are hearsay not subject to any exception, the Court observes that hearsay is inadmissible unless it falls into one of certain recognized exceptions. To qualify as a business record, a writing must: (1) be made in the regular course of business, (2) within a short time of the events described in it, and (3) under circumstances that indicate its trustworthiness. Foundational reports for breath testing, with certain qualifications, are admissible under the business record exception to the hearsay rule. Here, however, the DDR contains a narrative account of what the officer saw at the scene and includes factual statements, observations, and the officers opinions. Thus, the DDR contains inadmissible hearsay. Although the DDQ also does not appear initially to constitute hearsay, it incorporates by reference the DWI report in the remarks section and the DWI report, in turn, contains several inadmissible opinions. The DDQs content thus also rises to the level of inadmissible hearsay and must be excluded. Therefore, the DDR and the DDQ were inadmissible hearsay outside the scope of the business records exception.
. Here, the municipal court heard defendants testimony concerning the events on the day of the incident, as well as the testimony of Officer Serritella. The court found the Officers testimony more credible than defendants and therefore found defendant guilty. The courts credibility determinations, however, were made after the DDR and the DDQ were admitted into evidence, notwithstanding the impermissible hearsay statements they contained, and after the Alcotest results were admitted into evidence despite the lack of requisite foundational documents.
The cumulative effect of the inclusion of the DDR, the DDQ, and the Alcotest results may have tilted the municipal courts credibility findings. Thus, the Court lacks sufficient confidence in the proceedings to sanction the result reached and concludes that the interests of justice require a new trial. It is only because of the unique confluence of events in this case the inappropriate admission of the Alcotest results as well as the DDR and DDQ that the Court remands for a new trial. Had the only flaw been the admission of the DDR and DDQ, which contained hearsay, Officer Serritellas testimony would have alleviated much of that problem. Here, however, the cumulative effect of the errors may have tilted the municipal courts credibility findings.
The judgment of the Appellate Division was REVERSED