ILNews

Court can determine when defendant testifies

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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Defendants have the constitutional right to testify at trial, but they do not have the right to dictate when they take the stand, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Feb. 25.

At issue in Kevin Book v. State of Indiana, No. 49A05-0707-CR-385, is whether the trial court violated Book's Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights when he was allegedly compelled to make a decision whether to testify at a particular time during his trial.

Book was accused of smothering to death his girlfriend's 20-month-old daughter with his hand as his girlfriend slept. A jury found Book guilty of murder, and the trial court sentenced him to 60 years in prison, finding no mitigating factors.

Book appealed his conviction. He argued his constitutional rights were violated when the trial court allegedly tried to compel him to testify at a particular point in the trial. Book also believed the court shouldn't have allowed his 10-year-old cousin to testify at trial about an incident that took place between Book and his girlfriend's daughter several days before the murder. Book also appealed the sufficiency of evidence and his sentence.

During his trial, his defense counsel wanted to wait to put Book on the stand until after their only witness, Dr. Scott Wagner, could testify. The court decided Wagner would testify Saturday to accommodate his schedule and to complete the trial before Monday morning. The trial judge told the defense late Friday afternoon that if it had any more evidence besides Wagner, it had to be presented that day.

The trial court was trying to follow a schedule and complete the case in order to hear other cases on its docket. The trial judge told the defense it was up to them whether to rest after Wagner testified and also whether to call Book to the stand, but it could not guarantee there would be enough time to allow Book to testify after Wagner.

Because there was still available time Friday afternoon, the trial judge would not grant a continuance to prepare for Book's testimony, saying Book had a right to testify but did not have the right to testify when he wanted.

Book declined to testify Friday or after Wagner Saturday; the defense rested after Wagner's testimony.

On appeal, Book argued he was forced to testify when the trial court decided he should, not when Book's counsel believed was best. The decision of the trial court violated his constitutional right to determine when he would testify on his own behalf.

Book had plenty of time to prepare his defense, wrote Chief Judge John Baker, since discovery for the case began nearly 14 months prior. Book should have known what Wagner's testimony would include well before he testified, so his defense counsel's claim that Book's testimony hinged upon what Wagner said fails.

Book failed to show how the trial court's actions resulted in any harm or that the trial court prevented his counsel from full participation in the adversary fact-finding process, wrote Chief Judge Baker.

Book wanted his conviction reversed because of the testimony of his 10-year-old cousin was improperly permitted. His cousin testified that days before the murder, Book had told his girlfriend's daughter to shut up and threw a pillow at her.

Book's counsel did not object to the testimony at trial, so "the issue is waived," Chief Judge Baker wrote. Even if the issue wasn't waived, the trial court conveyed to the jury it was to consider the testimony only to understand the relationship between the young child and Book.

Finally, the Court of Appeals determined there was sufficient evidence to support Book's conviction and his 60-year sentence was appropriate.
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  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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