ILNews

Supreme Court: Be careful about reweighing evidence on appeal

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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Indiana's top jurists today issued a cautionary note to the state's Court of Appeals: that reweighing evidence in cases isn't the norm for appellate courts and could mean reversal if that happens.

That message came in the form of a unanimous seven-page opinion authored by Chief Justice Randall Shepard, involving the case Ronnie Drane v. State of Indiana, 45S04-0611-CR-477.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reweighed evidence in a Lake County rape and murder bench trial and, as a result, the justices have dismissed the appellate judges' decision and reinstated the trial court convictions and sentencing.

Drane was charged and convicted in the May 2002 murder and rape of Tomorra "Precious" Taylor, and was sentenced to an aggregate sentence of 85 years. The Court of Appeals reversed in June 2006, concluding the state did not present sufficient evidence to support the convictions.

In September, on a state request for rehearing, the Court of Appeals issued a second memorandum opinion on the case. Though noting its awareness of not being in a position to reweigh evidence or judge witness credibility, the court affirmed its earlier ruling and again stated the evidence was insufficient.

But Chief Justice Shepard wrote today that, "There is more than sufficient evidence to support both the murder and rape convictions."

Citing from its past decisions, he wrote that "appellate courts must consider only the probative evidence and reasonable evidence supporting the verdict," and that it's "the fact-finder's role, not that of appellate courts, to assess witness credibility and weigh the evidence to determine whether it is sufficient to support a conviction."

The chief justice also noted that appellate courts affirm convictions unless "no reasonable fact-finder could find the elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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