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Criminal: Indiana Supreme Court Issues 3 Opinions Tuesday
Posted in Litigation

On Tuesday, the Indiana Supreme Court issued three opinions in appeals from criminal convictions.

In Tyler v. State, the Court held that “a party may not introduce testimony via the Protected Person Statute [Indiana Code section 35-37-4-6] if the same person testifies in open court as to the same matters.”  In this case, the defendant was accused of exposing himself to five children whom his girlfriend left him in charge to babysit.  At trial, the State introduced the videotaped interviews of three of the children.  The interviews were conducted by a social worker after the incident was reported.  All five children also gave live testimony at trial - a situation that is not specifically addressed by the statute and had not been addressed before by the Indiana Supreme Court.

As the Court explained, the Protected Person Statute (“PPS”) “allows for the admission of otherwise inadmissible hearsay evidence relating to specified crimes whose victims are deemed ‘protected persons.’”  Child molesting and fondling are specified crimes, and children under 14 are deemed “protected persons.”  The Court explained, “Because the PPS represents a departure from ordinary trial procedure, it should be used only when necessary to further its basic purpose of avoiding further injury to the protected person.”  The admission of both videotaped interviews and live testimony, the Court concluded, did not further that basic purpose.  The Court thus determined that it “should exercise it supervisory powers to elaborate on the permissible use of statements under the PPS,” and held “that if the statements are consistent and both are otherwise admissible, testimony of a protected person may be presented in open court or by prerecorded statement through the PPS, but not both except as authorized under the Rules of Evidence.  If the person is able to testify live without serious emotional distress such that the protected person cannot reasonably communicate, that is clearly preferable.”

In Pruitt v. State, the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed, in a 4-1 decision, a post-conviction court's findings that Tommy Ray Pruitt "was not denied the effective assistance of trial or appellate counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment, that he did not present it with newly discovered evidence that undermined the confidence in his death sentence, and that his death sentence is not unconstitutional under the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Atkins v. Virginia prohibiting sentencing persons with mental retardation to death."

Pruitt was convicted of killing Morgan County Sheriff's Deputy Daniel Starnes after Officer Starnes had stopped Pruitt for erratic driving.  On direct appeal, Pruitt sought to have the death penalty charge dismissed on the ground that he was mentally retarded and ineligible for the death penalty.  The Indiana Supreme Court affirmed.  Pruitt v. State, 834 N.E.2d 90 (Ind. 2005).  Pruitt's post-conviction petition centered on whether his counsel was ineffective in presenting evidence of mental retardation.  The Indiana Supreme Court concluded that his counsel was not deficient.  Justice Rucker dissented, standing on his opinion from Pruitt's direct appeal, that Pruitt was mentally retarded and thus not eligible for a death sentence.

Finally, in Gray v. State, the Indiana Supreme Court explained that Indiana's Class B felony armed robbery statute, Indiana Code section 35-42-5-1, "requires proof that the perpetrator actually - rather than apparently - possessed a deadly weapon."  Gray was convicted of robbing two fast-food restaurants in the same week with a deadly weapon.  But, the Indiana Supreme Court concluded that, as to the second restaurant, the evidence was insufficient that Gray actually possessed a gun.  The victims' beliefs and fears that Gray had a gun, the Court held, were not enough given that Gray was apprehended almost immediately after leaving the second restaurant and no gun was found (though an electric shaver was in Gray's pocket).

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