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Hingle v. State

Supreme Court of Mississippi, En Banc

October 9, 2014

DANIELLE HINGLE a.k.a. DANIELLE MARIE HINGLE a.k.a. DANIELLA MARIE HINGLE
v.
STATE OF MISSISSIPPI

DATE OF JUDGMENT: 09/17/2012.

Page 660

DESOTO COUNTY CIRCUIT COURT, HON. ROBERT P. CHAMBERLIN, TRIAL JUDGE

FOR APPELLANT: OFFICE OF STATE PUBLIC DEFENDER, BY: MOLLIE MARIE MCMILLIN, GEORGE T. HOLMES.

FOR APPELLEE: OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, BY: SCOTT STUART.

COLEMAN, JUSTICE. DICKINSON, P.J., KITCHENS AND KING, JJ., JOIN THIS OPINION.

OPINION

Page 661

COLEMAN, JUSTICE

¶1. Danielle Hingle was convicted of sale of morphine, a controlled substance, and sentenced to fifteen years in the custody of the Mississippi Department of Corrections. On appeal, Hingle argues that admission of the testimony of a crime laboratory analyst who reviewed and signed the lab report but did not test the pills violated her Sixth Amendment right of confrontation. She also argues that the trial court erred by admitting the pills due to flaws in the chain of custody. We hold that the trial court did not err by allowing the reviewing analyst to testify or by allowing the pills to be admitted.

Factual Background

¶2. On June 21, 2011, Deputy Max Herring met confidential informant Billy Wheater for an undercover operation. After Wheater was searched, Herring, in an undercover role, drove Wheater to Hingle's workplace, a Sonic restaurant in Horn Lake. A video was played at trial showing that, when they arrived, Hingle walked up to the passenger window and Wheater handed money to Hingle. Hingle then handed pills to Wheater. Hingle counted the money and thanked Wheater; then Herring drove off. Herring testified that Wheater held the package Hingle had given him until they arrived at the post-buy location, where Wheater gave the pills to Agent Coleman.[1] Coleman placed the pills in a bag, which he initialed and sealed. Wheater was searched at the post-buy location.

¶3. Gary Fernandez, a drug analyst with the Mississippi Crime Laboratory, testified that he reviewed the results of a test conducted by Bob Reed, which had concluded that the pills contained morphine. Fernandez testified that, although he had not observed Reed performing the test, he had reviewed Reed's report line-by-line, had reached an independent conclusion that the pills contained morphine, and had signed the report as the technical and administrative reviewer. Hingle testified in her defense, and her primary defense theory was that Wheater had staged the sale to collect the confidential-informant fee. She admitted that Wheater had passed her money to " hold" for him, but she claimed that she had not given him drugs in exchange. She speculated that Wheater had produced the drugs after having concealed them from Herring by hiding them in his navel.

Analysis

¶4. Hingle claims that admission of Fernandez's testimony violated her Sixth Amendment right of confrontation because he only signed off on the lab report, but did not test the pills. She also argues that the trial court erred by admitting the pills into evidence because the State failed to lay a proper foundation due to flaws in the chain of custody.

I. Admission of the reviewing analyst's testimony did not violate Hingle's right of confrontation.

¶5. Hingle argues that the lower court violated her right of confrontation because the State did not produce Bob Reed, the Mississippi Crime Laboratory analyst who actually tested the pills and determined that they contained morphine. Reed's report

Page 662

was not admitted into evidence, so Hingle does not challenge the admissibility of the report through Fernandez's testimony; she takes issue with his testimony only. Hingle failed to object to Fernandez's testimony on Confrontation Clause grounds at trial, therefore, the issue is procedurally barred. Conners v. State, 92 So.3d 676, 682 (¶ 15) (Miss. 2012). Thus, for reversal on the issue, plain error must have existed.

¶6. " Under the plain-error doctrine, we can recognize obvious error [that] was not properly raised by the defendant . . . and which affects a defendant's 'fundamental, substantive right.'" Id. at 682 (¶ 15) (quoting Smith v. State, 986 So.2d 290, 294 (¶ 10) (Miss. 2008)). We have held " that a Confrontation Clause violation is a violation of a 'fundamental, substantive right.'" Conners, 92 So.3d at 682 (¶ 15). Therefore, although Hingle did not object at trial, it is appropriate to determine whether a Confrontation Clause violation occurred. For reversal under the plain error doctrine, there must have been an error that " resulted in a manifest miscarriage of justice." Williams v. State, 134 So.3d 732, 736 (¶ 15) (Miss. 2014) (citing Gray v. State, 549 So.2d 1316, 1321 (Miss. 1989)). Even if there was an error of the nature alleged -- and even if that error resulted in a violation of the Confrontation Clause -- if the error did not result in " a manifest miscarriage of justice," then it can be deemed harmless. Conners, 92 So.3d at 684-85 (¶ ¶ 20-21) (concluding that Conners's right to confrontation was violated, but it did not result in a manifest miscarriage of justice, and the error was harmless).

¶7. Under both the United States Constitution and the Mississippi Constitution, an accused has a right to confront and cross-examine the witnesses against him. U.S. Const. amend VI; Miss. Const. art. 3 § 26 (1890). In Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36, 124 S.Ct. 1354, 158 L.Ed.2d 177 (2004), the United States Supreme Court held that the Confrontation Clause bars the admission of testimonial hearsay unless the witness is unavailable and the defendant had a prior opportunity for cross-examination. Id. at 68. Generally, testimony is a " solemn declaration or affirmation made for the purpose of establishing or proving some fact." Id. (citation omitted). Laboratory reports created to serve as evidence against the accused at trial are testimonial statements covered by the Confrontation Clause. See Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts, 557 U.S. 305, 310, 129 S.Ct. 2527, 174 L.Ed.2d 314 (2009); Bullcoming v. New Mexico, 131 S.Ct. 2705, 2717, 180 L.Ed.2d 610 (2011); Conners, 92 So.3d at 684 (¶ 19).

¶8. In Melendez-Diaz, the Supreme Court held that sworn certificates of analysis -- stating that the substance taken from the defendant had been tested and found to be cocaine -- were testimonial, therefore, the certificates were inadmissible unless the analysts who prepared them were unavailable and there had been a prior opportunity to cross-examine them. Melendez-Diaz, 557 U.S. at 311. In Bullcoming, the State introduced a forensic laboratory report, which certified Bullcoming's blood alcohol level, through an analyst who was familiar with the lab's procedures but had not participated in or observed the testing of Bullcoming's blood. Bullcoming, 131 S.Ct. at 2712. The Supreme Court held that the ...


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