Indiana Supreme Court limits right of defendants to confront witnesses

2013-12-25T22:45:00Z 2013-12-26T08:54:06Z Indiana Supreme Court limits right of defendants to confront witnessesBy Dan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com
December 25, 2013 10:45 pm  • 

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.

Scott Speers, 36, was convicted of burglary and sentenced to eight years in prison last year for stealing eight guns during an Oct. 25, 2010, break-in at a Martinsville gun shop.

A comparison of the crime scene blood with Speers' DNA found a 1 in 3.4 quintillion chance that Speers did not commit the crime, according to court records.

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.

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