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SCOTUS won't take Indiana lab tech case

June 14, 2010

The nation’s highest court won’t take a case from the Indiana Supreme Court, which decided last year that it did not violate a man’s Sixth Amendment rights for a lab technician who’d processed DNA evidence to not testify at trial.

Justices on the Supreme Court of the United States met in private conference last week to consider the case of Richard Pendergrass v. Indiana, No. 09-866 from St. Joseph County. The issue was whether the Confrontation Clause permits the prosecution to introduce DNA profiles created by a certain chemical process as recorded by a “non-testifying” lab analyst and a computer, and having the analyst’s supervisor and a forensic DNA expert testify rather than the person who actually did the work.

The SCOTUS denied the writ of certiorari, likely because the court had decided a similar case on that issue last year and didn’t see a need to revisit it here.

This decision leaves in place the Indiana justices’ split-decision from September in Richard Pendergrass v. State of Indiana, No. 71S03-0808-CR-445.

In that decision, a majority found that the proof submitted during the Pendergrass trial was consistent with the Sixth Amendment based on the SCOTUS ruling in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 129 S. Ct. 2527 (2009), decided just months before. In that case, no witnesses were called to testify on the certificates of analysis that said the substance found in seized bags was cocaine. The SCOTUS held those certificates were testimonial and the defendant had the right to confront those who swore to the accuracy of the tests.

The Indiana justices in Pendergrass interpreted the majority opinion in Melendez-Diaz to say that not everyone who worked on the evidence must be called and the Confrontation Clause leaves discretion with the prosecution on which evidence to present. They believed Pendergrass' right to confrontation wasn't violated because the lab technician's supervisor, who personally checked the test results, and an expert who used that data to interpret the results were put on the stand for cross-examination during his trial.
 

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