ILNews

High court clarifies harmless error under Sixth Amendment

Back to TopE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

  5. Can I get this form on line,if not where can I obtain one. I am eligible.

ADVERTISEMENT