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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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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