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Friday, January 27, 2017

Ind. Decisions - 7th Circuit decides one Indiana case today, on immunity of witnesses

In Lana Canen v. Dennis Chapman (ND Ind., Lozano), a 16-page opinion, Judge Ripple writes:

Lana Canen was convicted of felony murder on August 10, 2005 in Indiana state court. Over seven years later, the state postconviction court vacated her conviction after Detective Dennis Chapman, the state’s fingerprint expert, recanted his trial testimony. He conceded that he mistakenly had identified a latent fingerprint found at the crime scene as belonging to Ms. Canen. The misidentification occurred because Detective Chapman only was trained to compare “known prints” (i.e., digital, ink, or powder fingerprint exemplars), not “latent prints” (i.e., invisible, unknown fingerprints found at a crime scene), and thus lacked the necessary qualifications to identify the latent print removed from the crime scene. At no time had he disclosed his lack of training to any party in the underlying state criminal proceeding.

Following her release, Ms. Canen brought this action against Detective Chapman under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She claimed that he had withheld his lack of qualification to perform latent fingerprint analysis and therefore had violated Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963). The district court dismissed the case at summary judgment. It held that Detective Chapman was entitled to qualified immunity. Ms. Canen then filed an appeal in this court.

We now hold that the district court’s analysis was correct. Detective Chapman’s failure to disclose that he was not trained as a latent print examiner cannot be characterized as a violation of any clearly established right, and, accordingly, the doctrine of qualified immunity protects Detective Chapman. Moreover, to the degree that this action is premised on the preparation or presentation of his trial testimony, absolute immunity protects him. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 27, 2017 12:22 PM
Posted to Ind. (7th Cir.) Decisions