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Williams v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

November 10, 2016

William C. Williams, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

         Appeal from the Vanderburgh Superior Court The Honorable Leslie C. Shively, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 82D01-1308-FB-1047

          Attorney for Appellant Yvette M. LaPlante Keating & LaPlante, LLP Evansville, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Gregory F. Zoeller Attorney General of Indiana Chandra K. Hein Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana

          Vaidik, Chief Judge.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] William C. Williams was charged with two counts of Class B felony operating a vehicle with a schedule I or II controlled substance in his blood causing death. One count was based on having marijuana in his blood, and the other count was based on having methamphetamine in his blood. The jury convicted Williams of both counts. Williams now appeals his methamphetamine-related conviction only. Specifically, Williams contends that the State failed to establish a chain of custody for his blood sample so as to allow the admission of the results showing that his blood sample tested positive for methamphetamine. In order to establish the chain of custody for Williams' blood sample, the State relied heavily on Exhibit 65, which the trial court admitted under the business-records exception to the hearsay rule. Williams, however, claims that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting Exhibit 65 because the State did not properly authenticate it.

         [¶2] We agree that the State did not properly authenticate Exhibit 65 either by a certification that complied with Indiana Evidence Rule 902(11) or by a records custodian who testified that the records were made at or near the time by-or from information transmitted by-someone with knowledge and that they were kept by the lab in the ordinary course of business. Without Exhibit 65, the State cannot establish the chain of custody for the sample of Williams' blood that tested positive for methamphetamine. We therefore reverse Williams' conviction based on having methamphetamine in his blood.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] Around 8:00 p.m. on August 6, 2013, Williams was driving his motorcycle with his girlfriend, Nancy Parsons, as his passenger. They had been at a funeral home in Evansville for Williams' sister's viewing and were on their way to go line dancing when Williams ran into the back of a van that was stopped at an intersection. Nancy was ejected from the motorcycle and later died from her injuries. Williams was transported to the hospital, where he consented to a blood draw. The Indiana State Department of Toxicology tested Williams' blood, and it tested positive for THC. The Department of Toxicology sent a sample of Williams' blood to NMS Labs in Pennsylvania for additional testing. NMS Labs issued a toxicology report showing that Williams' blood sample tested positive for methamphetamine.[1] See Ex. 65.

         [¶4] The State charged Williams with Count I: Class B felony operating a vehicle with a Schedule I or II controlled substance (marijuana) in his blood causing death and Count II: Class B felony operating a vehicle with a Schedule I or II controlled substance (methamphetamine) in his blood causing death.[2] At trial, Williams testified that he did not know how methamphetamine could have been in his blood and objected to the admission of State's Exhibit 65, which is a 192-page "Litigation Support Package" from NMS Labs containing, among other documents, the toxicology report that shows his blood sample tested positive for methamphetamine and the chain of custody for his blood sample. Tr. p. 233-247, 307. Although all 192 pages were admitted into evidence, only two pages-the actual toxicology report-were submitted to the jury.[3]Williams, however, admitted smoking marijuana two days before the accident and did not object to the toxicology report from the Department of Toxicology showing that his blood tested positive for THC. Id. at 132, 300; Ex. 63. The jury convicted Williams of both counts, and the trial court sentenced him to eight years with two years suspended to probation on each count, to be served concurrently.

         [¶5] Williams now appeals his methamphetamine-related conviction only.[4]

         Discussion and Decision

         [¶6] Williams contends that the State failed to establish a chain of custody for his blood sample "so as to allow the admission of the results of tests showing it contained methamphetamine." Appellant's Br. p. 10. Regarding the chain of custody for fungible evidence, including blood samples, the State bears the burden of giving reasonable assurances that the evidence remained in an undisturbed condition as it passed through various hands. Troxell v. State, 778 N.E.2d 811, 814 (Ind. 2002). The State need not establish a perfect chain of custody, and once the State strongly suggests the exact whereabouts of the evidence, any gaps go to the weight of the evidence and not to its admissibility. Id.

         [¶7] In order to establish the chain of custody for Williams' blood sample, the State relied heavily on Exhibit 65, see Appellee's Br. p. 16, which the trial court admitted under the business-records exception to the hearsay rule, see Tr. p. 233-47. Williams argues, however, that the trial court abused its ...


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