Political or newsworthy cases often make for bad law. This is never more the case when scrutinizing the latest unfolding developments within the State of Indiana v. David Bisard. Bisard, an Indianapolis police officer is presently on trial for causing the death of a motorcyclist while allegedly driving drunk. Until this week, the criminal proceedings against Bisard had been reduced to lone Reckless Driving charges as the dui counts formerly filed against him had been dismissed by the state trial court.
As the appeals process commenced, the focal point of contention had been the admissibility of blood draw evidence against Bisard. Trial judge Grant Hawkins agreed with the defense position that the individual who drew Bisard’s blood was not clearly defined by statute as one authorized in establishing a proper chain of custody so as to allow for this potential evidence’s admissibility in a court of law.
That state court decision had initially been overruled by the Indiana Court of Appeals whose decision has now been affirmed by the Indiana Supreme Court. The dispositive issue for the court’s review has centered around the definition of qualified blood draw professional within the meaning of the Indiana criminal code. Reading the statute, trial court judge Gant Hawkins in my opinion correctly reviewed the definition as written by the legislature and concluded that the blood draw employee who took Bisard’s blood sample was not included within the list of professionals recited by the state statute qualified to render the test evidence admissible within subsequent criminal proceedings.
Within the appellate court decision, Former Chief Justice Randall Shepard had given a different interpretation of the present statute in overturning Hawkins’ decision. In implementing a more broad interpretation, Shepard and now the Supreme Court of Indiana has gone beyond a literal reading of qualified professional in an effort to allow for this individual’s credentials, procedure and qualifications to determine legal reliability as opposed to his or her professional standing alone. This interpretation in my view is fraught with danger and sets a potentially unfortunate precedent for future standards of appellate review.
As a dui lawyer in Indianapolis, I tend to take the position that had the Bisard trial not become the focus of significant interest among the public, such a relaxed and expansive standard of review to hold Bisard to account would not be as readily forthcoming. Further, as the retired Chief Judge of our supreme court is empowered to hear appellate cases under Indiana law, the supreme court had its political cover to pacify public outrage at the chain of legal events that could have been percieved to allow a bad cop to go free.
Endorsing the politically expedient decision of the former chief justice is not a surpise to legal observers within Indiana. The herculean chore of convincing the supreme court to overturn their former chief justice’s decision made Bisard’s attorney’s efforts all the more daunting when seeking final review before the state’s highest court.
Appellate review within less notable cases is one that generally bends over backwards to show great deference to the lower court decision and analysis. Compounded with the fact that this ruling has been handed down by the former head judge of the state’s highest court leads me to believe that Bisard’s lawyers had a near impossible task in attempting to overturning the decision. A misguided course of events that will allow potential uncertainty in the interpretation of our criminal codes in the coming years.
Case law lacking coherent structure will potentially be the biproduct of future legal decisions in Indiana. Such is the case when the supreme court of this state has judicially sanctioned the opportunity to disregard the clear wording of a legislative statute to one that is open to wide interpretation depending upon the political gravity of the case facts presented.
Whether Bisard is guilty will be determined as it should within the Marion County Superior Court. What can and should be open for debate and vigorous discussion is the means by which Indiana’s legal structure is safeguarded from outside influence in making fluctuating standards of review in law to our later peril.