State v. McLean, 205 N.C. App. 247 (Jul. 6, 2010)

Information in a police department database linking the defendant’s name to her photograph fell within the Rule 803(8) public records hearsay exception. After an undercover officer engaged in a drug buy from the defendant, he selected the defendant’s photograph from an array presented to him by a fellow officer. The fellow officer then cross-referenced the photograph in the database and determined that the person identified was the defendant. This evidence was admitted at trial. The court noted that although the Rule 803(8) exception excludes matters observed by officers and other law enforcement personnel regarding a crime scene or apprehension of the accused, it allows for admission of public records of purely ministerial observations, such as fingerprinting and photographing a suspect, and cataloguing a judgment and sentence. The court concluded that the photographs in the police department’s database were taken and compiled as a routine procedure following an arrest and were not indicative of anything more than that the person photographed has been arrested. It concluded: “photographing an arrested suspect is a routine and unambiguous record that Rule 803(8) was designed to cover. Absent evidence to the contrary, there is no reason to suspect the reliability of these records, as they are not subject to the same potential subjectivity that may imbue the observations of a police officer in the course of an investigation.”