United States v. Oates
560 F.2d 45 (1977)

  • Oates was arrested under suspicion of selling heroin.
    • Oates was caught in possession of a white powder.  The powder was sent to a US Customs Service lab where a chemist concluded that it was heroin.
  • At trial, the prosecution attempted to call the chemist, Weinberg, who performed the analysis, but he was sick and could not testify.
    • Oates had argued that the lab analysis was faulty.
  • Instead of having Weinberg testify, the prosecution had another chemist who worked in the same lab testify to the regular practices of the lab, and they also attempted to introduce the lab report and Weinberg’s notes into evidence.
    • Oates objected on the grounds that the out-of-court report was hearsay.
      • Specifically, Oates was concerned because there were some discrepancies in the lab report that implied there had been some falsification.
    • The prosecution argued that the lab report was an exception to hearsay because it was a public record, and covered by FRE 803(8).
  • The Trial Judge allowed the evidence to be admitted.
  • Oates was convicted of drug possession.  He appealed.
  • The Appellate Court overturned the conviction and remanded for a new trial.
    • The Appellate Court looked to FRE 803(8)(C), which governs public records made pursuant to an investigation and found that the rule does not cover situations where the government seeks to have those records admitted against the accused in a criminal case.
      • Basically, the lab report was not made in the normal course of public business, but specifically to litigate this case.  Therefore it is not covered by the FRE 803(8)(C) exception.
      • FRE 803(8)(C) covers records made “in civil actions and proceedings and against the Government in criminal cases, factual findings resulting from an investigation made pursuant to authority granted by law.”
    • The Appellate Court found that the lab chemists count as “other law enforcement personnel” and so the lab report does not meet the FRE 803(8)(B) exception either.
      • FRE 803(8)(B) covers “matters observed pursuant to duty imposed by law as to which matters there was a duty to report, excluding, however, in criminal cases matters observed by police officers and other law enforcement personnel.”
  • Basically, a public document is admissible under FRE 803(8), but only it is wasn’t made for the express purpose of litigation/prosecution.  It has to be made for a different reason.
    • Otherwise a prosecutor could attempt to prove their case by simply putting into evidence police officers’ reports of their observations of a crime.