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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. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  2. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  3. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

  4. The sad thing is that no fish were thrown overboard The "greenhorn" who had never fished before those 5 days was interrogated for over 4 hours by 5 officers until his statement was illicited, "I don't want to go to prison....." The truth is that these fish were measured frozen off shore and thawed on shore. The FWC (state) officer did not know fish shrink, so the only reason that these fish could be bigger was a swap. There is no difference between a 19 1/2 fish or 19 3/4 fish, short fish is short fish, the ticket was written. In addition the FWC officer testified at trial, he does not measure fish in accordance with federal law. There was a document prepared by the FWC expert that said yes, fish shrink and if these had been measured correctly they averaged over 20 inches (offshore frozen). This was a smoke and mirror prosecution.

  5. I love this, Dave! Many congrats to you! We've come a long way from studying for the bar together! :)

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