ILNews

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. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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