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In-court marijuana field test ruled error, but not reversible

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An appeals court panel ruled that a deputy’s in-court field test to prove a substance was marijuana should not have been allowed, but it declined to use the error as a basis to reverse a man’s misdemeanor conviction.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a conviction and one-year suspended sentence for Class A misdemeanor possession of marijuana in Kyle L. Doolin v. State of Indiana, 32A01-1111-CR-545, but it agreed with Doolin’s argument that Hendricks Superior Judge David Coleman should not have allowed a sheriff’s deputy to conduct a test on the evidence during a bench trial.

At trial, Hendricks County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Petree testified about a search of a vehicle in which Doolin was a passenger after a traffic stop on Interstate 70 when the vehicle changed lanes without a proper signal. Petree found what appeared to be marijuana concealed in a locked glove box. Doolin admitted after his arrest that it was his and he wished to take responsibility for it.

The court allowed Petree to perform a field test during the trial on the evidence over Doolin’s repeated objection. Petree placed a small amount of the green, leafy substance in a glass bottle into which Petree dropped a capsule and shook the bottle to break the capsule, releasing a chemical that turned blue when in contact with THC, the active compound in marijuana.

The first test failed, and Coleman allowed a second test over Doolin’s objections that there was no foundation for the reliability of the test and that Petree was not a chemist.

“The State simply presented no foundational evidence of the test used. Because of this dearth of evidence regarding this field test, we find the State failed to establish the test’s reliability under Rule 702(b), and the trial court abused its discretion in admitting the results into evidence,” Judge James Kirsch wrote in a unanimous opinion.

But the court said the error would not likely have invalidated Doolin’s conviction. He acknowledged possessing the marijuana, and Petree’s training, observation and circumstantial evidence were sufficient to determine that the substance was marijuana.

“Accordingly, we conclude that while it was error for the trial court to admit the in-court field test, the error was harmless in light of the other independent evidence of the identity of the substance,” Kirsch wrote.

The opinion also said the judges’ findings should not be read too broadly and hinted at guidance in terms of when such tests may be admissible during court.

“We note that our holding today does not represent a conclusion that all field tests of marijuana conducted in the courtroom are, per se, inadmissible; nor do we find that in-court field tests on marijuana may never be used as substantive evidence of guilt, as Doolin asks us to do. Rather, we hold that under the facts and circumstances of this case, the trial court abused its discretion when it admitted the results of Deputy Petree’s in-court field test because of the lack of foundation as to its reliability,” Kirsch wrote.
 

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  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.

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