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Friday, December 27, 2013

Ind. Decisions - "Supreme Court limits right of defendants to confront witnesses"

The Supreme Court's Dec. 19th opinion in Scott Speers v. State of Indiana (ILB summary here) was the subject of a story yesterday by Dan Carden of the NWI Times. Some quotes:

INDIANAPOLIS | A criminal defendant is not entitled to question in court every person who has handled the evidence used against the defendant, the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled.

Adopting a narrow reading of the Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses, the state's high court said a crime lab technician who transferred blood evidence from police-delivered broken glass onto a swab for DNA testing -- but did not conduct the DNA test -- does not have to testify to satisfy constitutional fair trial requirements. * * *

Speers argued in his appeal that his right of confrontation was violated because the state failed to present the lab technician for cross-examination. He said transferring the blood from the broken display case glass to a testing swab was a "crucial step" in the evidence-gathering process.

The Supreme Court rejected his claim in its 5-0 ruling.

Justice Robert Rucker, a Gary native, said Speers properly got to cross-examine the forensic DNA analyst who tested the crime scene blood and matched it with Speers' DNA record, in accordance with a 2011 U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring crime lab analysts, and not surrogates, to testify about their findings.

But Rucker said the U.S. Supreme Court also has ruled that requirement does not extend to every person in the chain of custody, and it's up to the prosecution to decide which steps in the evidence chain require testimony.

He said the significance of any gap caused by the absence of testimony is a matter for the jury to weigh but is not a violation of the confrontation clause.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 27, 2013 10:17 AM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions