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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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