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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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  1. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  2. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  3. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  4. I totally agree with John Smith.

  5. An idea that would harm the public good which is protected by licensing. Might as well abolish doctor and health care professions licensing too. Ridiculous. Unrealistic. Would open the floodgates of mischief and abuse. Even veteranarians are licensed. How has deregulation served the public good in banking, for example? Enough ideology already!

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