Justices: Drug test results properly admitted in parental rights termination hearing

A couple’s argument that their drug test results amounted to hearsay and should not have been admitted in court failed to convince the Indiana Supreme Court, which found the drug test reports were admissible under the records of a regularly conducted business activity exception.

Mother, A.B., and Father, J.R., challenged the termination of their parental rights to their four children. The Indiana Department of Child Services had filed the termination petition because the parents failed to complete court-ordered services, failed to provide stable housing for the children and struggled with domestic violence and drug addiction.

At the termination hearing in January 2019, the parents objected to the admission of their drug test results from Forensic Fluids Laboratory. The Steuben Circuit Court allowed the results to be admitted and, on appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals found the tests were property admitted as records of regularly conducted activity.

The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed in In the Matter of the Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of K.R., J.T.R, J.L.R., & E.R. (Minor Children); A.B. (Mother) and J.R. (Father) v. Indiana Department of Child Services, 20S-JT-63. Chief Justice Loretta Rush concurred in result but did not write a separate opinion.

Before the Indiana justices, the parents argued drug tests cannot properly fall under the records of a regularly conducted activity exception to the hearsay rule pursuant to Indiana Rule of Evidence 803(6). Citing In re L.S., 125 N.E.3d 628, at 631 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019), the parents asserted the records do not qualify for the exception because they are not necessary for the laboratory to operate.

The Supreme Court found two problems with that argument.

First, Forensic Fluids Laboratories does depend on the records to operate. Second, there are other considerations which establish the records are sufficiently reliable so as to meet the exception.

Writing for the court, Justice Steven David found that the drug test records met the trustworthiness standard set forth in prior case law.

“(Forensic Fluids Laboratory director Bridgette) Lemberg testified in detail about the internal laboratory process and quality control screening and further indicated that the laboratory does double blind testing almost monthly,” David wrote. “Both her testimony and affidavit also reveal the detailed, methodical and repetitive process for processing samples.

“Finally, Ms. Lemberg is the Laboratory Director and Custodian of Records for Forensic Fluids and is licensed by the Michigan Department of Health and has a CLIA certification by the federal government,” David continued. “As such, she is required to follow all state and federal regulations in order to maintain her job and her company’s licensure and certification.”

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