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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ind. Decisions - Two today from the Supreme Court

[My Firefox browser is still not able to access the Indiana Courts site, but the Chrome browser is now able to, albeit slowly.]

In Scott Speers v. State of Indiana, an 8-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Rucker writes:

In this case we examine whether a laboratory technician involved in the chain of custody of DNA evidence must testify at trial in order to satisfy the demands of a defendant’s Sixth Amendment right of confrontation. We conclude the Constitution does not so require. * * *

Speers seeks transfer which we now grant to address his Sixth Amendment argument. In all other respects we summarily affirm the opinion of Court of Appeals. See Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A). And although we also affirm the judgment of the trial court, we do so on grounds slightly different from those of our colleagues. * * *

Essentially, there is no Confrontation Clause violation where the State introduces evidence and links in the chain of custody of that evidence are missing. Indeed, “the State need not establish a perfect chain of custody, and any gaps go to the weight of the evidence and not its admissibility.” Kennedy v. State, 578 N.E.2d 633, 639 (Ind. 1991). In this case Speers pointed out during cross-examination of James that she was “not the person who took the purported blood off the glass,” “that witness is not going to be testifying here today,” and “if that person screwed it up, no matter what you did after the fact, all you would get would be an erroneous result.” See Tr. at 220, 21. 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.

In Tyrice J. Halliburton v. State of Indiana, an 18-page, 5-0 opinion, "On Direct Appeal Pursuant to Indiana Appellate Rule 4(A)(1)(a)", Justice Rucker writes:
The State charged Tyrice J. Halliburton with murder and alleged he was a habitual offender. The State also sought life imprisonment without parole. After a trial by jury Halliburton was found guilty as charged and the jury recommended life imprisonment. Following this recommendation, the trial court sentenced Halliburton accordingly. He now appeals contending the trial court erred in admitting certain evidence and gave the jury an erroneous limiting instruction. We affirm the judgment of the trial court. * * *

[I. Admission of Evidence] * * * The law in Indiana is well settled that “a defendant may not argue one ground for objection at trial and then raise new grounds on appeal.” Turner, 953 N.E.2d at 1058 (quoting Gill v. State, 730 N.E.2d 709, 711 (Ind. 2000)). As above recited, at trial Halliburton objected to testimony concerning the prior burglary on grounds that its probative value was outweighed by its prejudicial impact. Essentially Halliburton’s objection was based not on Rule 404 but Rule 403 which declares in pertinent part: “Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice . . . .” Halliburton made no claim at trial that evidence of the burglary did not fit any of the 404(b) exceptions; nor did he contend at trial that evidence of the burglary was bad character evidence prohibited by Rule 404(b). Accordingly Halliburton has waived this claim of error for appellate review.7 See Gill, 730 N.E.2d at 711.

[II. Limiting Instructions] * * * Here the instruction did not imply that the trial court had formed an opinion on the credibility of a witness or the weight the jury was to give the witness’ testimony. However, the instruction nonetheless advised the jury that the trial court had made a preliminary determination that the testimony the jury was about to hear is “relevant” and that the trial court had made a preliminary determination that the probative value of such testimony “outweighs any prejudice there may be.” Tr. at 559. Although appropriate as an evidentiary ruling, the highlighted portion of the limiting instruction should not have been read to the jury in that it had no role in the matter. “The court and not the jury determines the admissibility of evidence, and the foundation for the admission of secondary evidence is a matter alone for the court and not for the jury.” Sprague v. State, 181 N.E. 507, 512 (Ind. 1932); Pritchard v. State, 230 N.E.2d 416, 417 (1967) (“This being a criminal case, the determination of the admissibility of the evidence is a function alone of the trial court . . . .” (citations omitted)).

In the end we conclude the limiting instruction was given in error. However, Halliburton makes no claim the error was fundamental. And we find no such error to have occurred.

Conclusion. We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on December 19, 2013 04:58 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions