In order to convict someone of driving after suspension of license, the Commonwealth has to prove that the person received notice of the suspension. Until last week, the government has been proving notice by offering into evidence a piece of paper from the Registry of Motor Vehicles, certifying that the attached notices had been mailed. Courts have been admitting them as business records, even though the notices are typically created after the charges have already issued.
However, last week in Commonwealth v. Parenteau, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts held that a certification by the registry that a notice of suspension was mailed to the driver is a testimonial document, and not simply a business record. Absent the appearance of a live witness to be cross-examined, such certificates, created after the fact, are inadmissible by themselves to prove notice of suspension. The court held that to admit the certificates violated the defendant’s Sixth Amendment right of confrontation.
This important decision will require someone from the Registry to appear and testify that a particular notice was mailed to the driver’s address, or at least that the practice of the Registry is to mail out notices to the address of record. This requirement will surely add a level of difficulty to the Commonwealth’s ability to prove its cases.