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SCOTUS: Lab techs must testify

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A decision today from the Supreme Court of the United States will have an immediate impact on Indiana, where state justices are considering at least two cases about whether lab technicians who've tested evidence in a case must appear on the stand.

The nation's high court offered an answer to that question: Yes, those techs must testify.

In its 5-4 ruling in Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, No. 07-591, the majority determined that forensic analysts must be called to offer "testimonial evidence" about any report they prepare before that can be admitted as trial evidence.

Turning to its holdings in the cases of Crawford v. Washington, 541 U. S. 36 (2004), and Davis v. Washington, 547 U.S. 813 (2006), the majority used its rational that the trial use of out-of-court statements made to police by an unavailable witness violates that criminal defendant's Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses against him or her.

Luis Melendez-Diaz was arrested while making a cocaine sale in a parking lot, and at trial bags of cocaine he'd allegedly distributed were introduced into evidence along with drug-analysis certificates prepared by a lab technician who identified them as cocaine. A jury convicted Melendez-Diaz of distributing and trafficking cocaine, but he appealed on the Sixth Amendment grounds under the Crawford ruling. The state's intermediate appellate court rejected those claims in an unpublished opinion, referring to them in a footnote as being "without merit," and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court also denied his appeal. But this SCOTUS ruling changes that.

"The Sixth Amendment does not permit the prosecution to prove its case via ex parte out-of-court affidavits, and the admission of such evidence against Melendez-Diaz was error," Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority in its 61-page opinion that reverses and remands the Massachusetts appellate judgment.

Dissenting, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer and Samuel Alito joined Justice Anthony Kennedy, who opined that the majority's ruling "sweeps away an accepted rule governing the admission of scientific evidence ... (that) extends across at least 35 states and six Federal Courts of Appeals. ...

"It is remarkable that the Court so confidently disregards a century of jurisprudence," Justice Kennedy wrote. "We learn now that we have misinterpreted the Confrontation Clause - hardly an arcane or seldom-used provision of the Constitution - for the first 218 years of its existence."

Later, he wrote, "The Court's opinion suggests this will be a body of formalistic and wooden rules, divorced from precedent, common sense, and the underlying purpose of the Clause. Its ruling has vast potential to disrupt criminal procedures that already give ample protections against the misuse of scientific evidence."

With this ruling, the Indiana Supreme Court can now move forward on its own set of cases that have likely been held up as a result of this pending SCOTUS decision. Those cases are: Richard Pendergrass v. State, No. 71S03-0808-CR-445, which justices heard arguments on in October after the Indiana Court of Appeals had decided last summer that his rights weren't violated by admitting evidence without testimony; and Ricky L. Jackson v. State, No. 27A02-0710-CR-902, which is pending transfer after the Indiana Court of Appeals decided last summer that the forensic report shouldn't be admitted without the lab technician's testimony.

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  1. Indianapolis employers harassment among minorities AFRICAN Americans needs to be discussed the metro Indianapolis area is horrible when it comes to harassing African American employees especially in the local healthcare facilities. Racially profiling in the workplace is an major issue. Please make it better because I'm many civil rights leaders would come here and justify that Indiana is a state the WORKS only applies to Caucasian Americans especially in Hamilton county. Indiana targets African Americans in the workplace so when governor pence is trying to convince people to vote for him this would be awesome publicity for the Presidency Elections.

  2. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

  3. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  4. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  5. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

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