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High court clarifies harmless error under Sixth Amendment

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The Indiana Supreme Court granted transfer to a man’s case in order to address the application of harmless error to Sixth Amendment violations involving confronting those who create laboratory reports.

Max Koenig claimed the trial court violated his constitutional right to confrontation when it admitted a lab report without allowing him to confront the person who created it. The Indiana Court of Appeals held the error was harmless because there was sufficient evidence to support his conviction of dealing in a schedule II controlled substance as a Class B felony without the report. The judges noted in a footnote in their opinion that a harmless error analysis after Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004), is not applicable to the Sixth Amendment.

In Max Koenig v. State of Indiana, No. 42S04-1009-CR-505, the justices disagreed, finding Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18 (1967), to be applicable to these types of cases. In Chapman, the United States Supreme Court held that in the context of a particular case, certain constitutional errors may have been “harmless” in terms of their effect on the fact-finding process at trial. A Chapman harmless error analysis turns on a number of factors, including the importance of the witness’ testimony in the prosecution’s case and the overall strength of the prosecution’s case, wrote Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard.

“Since Chapman, we have reaffirmed the principle that an otherwise valid conviction should not be set aside if the reviewing court may confidently say, on the whole record, that the constitutional error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt,” he wrote.

The justices also didn’t find that Crawford limited the application of Chapman.

“A Chapman analysis does not involve a substitution for confrontation, but a means to cope with inevitable mistakes that creep into trial proceedings which beyond a reasonable doubt could not affect the verdict,” he wrote.

In Koenig’s case, he admitted to giving drugs to his friend, told police where he got the methadone, and his statements to police were corroborated by a witness. The confrontation error in his case was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

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  1. Major social engineering imposed by judicial order well in advance of democratic change, has been the story of the whole post ww2 period. Contraception, desegregation, abortion, gay marriage: all rammed down the throats of Americans who didn't vote to change existing laws on any such thing, by the unelected lifetime tenure Supreme court heirarchs. Maybe people came to accept those things once imposed upon them, but, that's accommodation not acceptance; and surely not democracy. So let's quit lying to the kids telling them this is a democracy. Some sort of oligarchy, but no democracy that's for sure, and it never was. A bourgeois republic from day one.

  2. JD Massur, yes, brings to mind a similar stand at a Texas Mission in 1836. Or Vladivostok in 1918. As you seemingly gloat, to the victors go the spoils ... let the looting begin, right?

  3. I always wondered why high fence deer hunting was frowned upon? I guess you need to keep the population steady. If you don't, no one can enjoy hunting! Thanks for the post! Fence

  4. Whether you support "gay marriage" or not is not the issue. The issue is whether the SCOTUS can extract from an unmentionable somewhere the notion that the Constitution forbids government "interference" in the "right" to marry. Just imagine time-traveling to Philadelphia in 1787. Ask James Madison if the document he and his fellows just wrote allowed him- or forbade government to "interfere" with- his "right" to marry George Washington? He would have immediately- and justly- summoned the Sergeant-at-Arms to throw your sorry self out into the street. Far from being a day of liberation, this is a day of capitulation by the Rule of Law to the Rule of What's Happening Now.

  5. With today's ruling, AG Zoeller's arguments in the cases of Obamacare and Same-sex Marriage can be relegated to the ash heap of history. 0-fer

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