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Justices: Lab tech does not need to testify

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The Indiana Supreme Court Thursday concluded that a laboratory technician involved in the chain of custody of DNA evidence is not required to testify at trial in order to satisfy the demands of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right of confrontation.

In Scott Speers v. State of Indiana, 55S01-1312-CR-841, Scott Speers challenged his convictions of Class C felony burglary and Class D felony theft, arguing the trial court erred by admitting DNA evidence in violation of his Sixth Amendment right of confrontation.

A gun store in Martinsville was robbed and police found what appeared to be blood on two pieces of broken glass. Officer Jim Bradley, the evidence technician, put each piece in separate boxes and sealed them. The evidence went to the Indiana State Police lab for testing. Nichole Stickle, a lab tech, transferred the blood drops from the glass and swabbed them onto a cloth for testing. Speers was identified as a suspect.

Characterizing as a “crucial step” the transferring of blood from a piece of glass to a swab for testing, Speers argued his right of confrontation was violated because the technician who performed this function “never testified nor was subject to cross examination.” Lori James, a forensic DNA analyst for the ISP lab, conducted the analysis of the swabs taken from the glass, and she testified at Speers’ trial.

The justices rejected Speers’ claim that Williams v. Illinois, 132 S. Ct. 2221 (2012), controls because in his case, both DNA profiles were analyzed by a single analyst. But they did concede that Pendergrass v. State, 913 N.E.2d 703 (Ind. 2009), in which the Court of Appeals relied to reject Speers’ confrontation clause argument, has been undermined by subsequent authority from the Supreme Court of the United States.

But that subsequent authority confirms that Speers’ right of confrontation was not violated, Justice Robert Rucker concluded, citing Bullcoming v. New Mexico, 131 S. Ct. 2705 (2011).

“Hence although Pendergrass provides the State no refuge, Speers nonetheless cannot prevail on his Sixth Amendment claim. In this case the sole analyst who conducted the DNA testing and prepared the laboratory reports that were introduced as exhibits did in fact testify at trial. This is precisely the procedure dictated by Bullcoming,” Rucker wrote.

“The significance of any gap created by the absence of Stickle’s testimony was a matter for the jury to weigh. The trial court did not err by admitting the DNA evidence over Speers’ Confrontation Clause objection.”

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  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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