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Photos admissible when evidence has been destroyed

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In an appeal from a man convicted of Class B dealing in methamphetamine and Class B misdemeanor visiting a common nuisance, the Indiana Court of Appeals has held that photos of a methamphetamine lab were admissible because the physical evidence had been destroyed.

In Jason Jones v. State of Indiana, No. 34A05-1101-CR-66, Jason Jones argued that because officers failed to comply with Indiana Code 35-33-5-5 subsections (e), (f) and (g), certain photographic and testimonial evidence should not have been admitted into evidence.

Kokomo police arrested Jones as he attempted to leave a house where police were serving a search warrant. During the search, police found evidence of methamphetamine production.

 Before trial, law enforcement officers used a Hazmat team to destroy some of the chemicals and chemically contaminated materials found in the home’s garage. At trial, Jones moved to exclude evidence of any item not received by him in discovery, claiming that law enforcement officers had failed to comply with Indiana Code 35-33-5-5, which governs the disposition of property held as evidence and authorizes law enforcement to destroy chemicals, controlled substances and chemically contaminated equipment associated with the manufacture of drugs.

However, citing Arizona v. Youngblood, 488 U.S. 51, 58 (1988), the appeals court held the state does not have “an undifferentiated and absolute duty to retain and preserve all material that might be of conceivable evidentiary significance in a particular prosecution.” The COA wrote that in the context of hazardous chemicals and materials, tension arises between the practical need for destruction and the threat of prejudice to the substantial rights of a criminal defendant, which necessarily occurs when evidence is destroyed.

Jones also objected to Kokomo Police Officer Jim Nielson’s testimony regarding the “one-pot” method of methamphetamine production. The COA held that Nielson’s training and experience qualified him as a skilled witness, and therefore the court did not err in allowing his testimony about the one-pot reaction method.

Jones also objected to the court’s denial of his motion for a continuance, but because that argument was raised for the first time on appeal, he has waived the issue, the court held.

 

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