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Judges reverse convictions based on use of witness’s statement

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Because the state called a witness solely to impeach her with a pretrial statement, and the jury may have relied on the witness’s testimony to convict the defendant, a majority on the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed burglary and receiving stolen property convictions.  

Teresa Beever returned home from dining at Earl’s restaurant in Brook, Ind., to find her home had been burglarized. Kelly Tebo, a waitress at the restaurant, texted her boyfriend, Jacob Herron, to tell him the Beever home would be unoccupied, according to her statement to investigators. She also said she saw him carry two bags, one of which he said contained things stolen from the Beever home.

The state put Tebo on the stand to impeach her with her pre-trial statements over Herron’s objection. At his trial, Tebo said Herron said nothing about stealing from the Beevers and that they traveled out of town for a bridal shower, thus the two bags. She also denied discussing the burglary with anyone other than investigators, but the state then called Beever to the stand, who said Tebo admitted texting Herron on the night of the burglary and that the bags had things from her home.

“Put simply, the record belies the State’s argument that Tebo’s testimony served a legitimate non-impeachment purpose. The State knew before trial that Tebo’s testimony would be inconsistent with her pretrial statement.  Tebo’s direct examination spans thirty-five pages, thirty of which pertain to her pretrial statement, and the remaining pages do not contain substantive testimony,” Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote in Jacob Herron v. State of Indiana, 56A03-1306-CR-210. “These facts, when considered in light of the minimal evidence tying Herron to the burglary, lead us to conclude that the State’s only purpose in calling Tebo as a witness was, in fact, impeachment. Tebo readily admitted that her testimony was inconsistent with her pretrial statement. Despite admitting herself a liar, the State drove the point home by reading, line-by-line, from her pretrial statement. This was improper and unnecessary.”

The jury couldn’t use Tebo’s pretrial statement as substantive evidence against Herron because it was admitted solely for impeachment. But when a witness is impeached as Tebo was — by reciting portions of the witness’s pretrial statement — there is a very real threat that the impeachment evidence will be used as substantive evidence, Vaidik continued.
Vaidik and Judge Melissa May voted to reverse his conviction and held he could be retried.

Judge Patricia Riley dissented in part, believing that while the state’s procedure for impeaching Tebo was improper, the error was harmless. She found enough circumstantial evidence existed to prove Herron committed the offenses, including a glove found at Herron’s home that matched a photographic imprint taken at the Beevers’ residence.

She found the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the state to call Tebo as a witness because the jury may have wondered why such a valuable witness was being kept from the stand if she was not called.
 

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  3. Our nation produces very few jurists of the caliber of Justice DOUGLAS and his peers these days. Here is that great civil libertarian, who recognized government as both a blessing and, when corrupted by ideological interests, a curse: "Once the investigator has only the conscience of government as a guide, the conscience can become ‘ravenous,’ as Cromwell, bent on destroying Thomas More, said in Bolt, A Man For All Seasons (1960), p. 120. The First Amendment mirrors many episodes where men, harried and harassed by government, sought refuge in their conscience, as these lines of Thomas More show: ‘MORE: And when we stand before God, and you are sent to Paradise for doing according to your conscience, *575 and I am damned for not doing according to mine, will you come with me, for fellowship? ‘CRANMER: So those of us whose names are there are damned, Sir Thomas? ‘MORE: I don't know, Your Grace. I have no window to look into another man's conscience. I condemn no one. ‘CRANMER: Then the matter is capable of question? ‘MORE: Certainly. ‘CRANMER: But that you owe obedience to your King is not capable of question. So weigh a doubt against a certainty—and sign. ‘MORE: Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it? No, I will not sign.’ Id., pp. 132—133. DOUGLAS THEN WROTE: Where government is the Big Brother,11 privacy gives way to surveillance. **909 But our commitment is otherwise. *576 By the First Amendment we have staked our security on freedom to promote a multiplicity of ideas, to associate at will with kindred spirits, and to defy governmental intrusion into these precincts" Gibson v. Florida Legislative Investigation Comm., 372 U.S. 539, 574-76, 83 S. Ct. 889, 908-09, 9 L. Ed. 2d 929 (1963) Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, concurring. I write: Happy Memorial Day to all -- God please bless our fallen who lived and died to preserve constitutional governance in our wonderful series of Republics. And God open the eyes of those government officials who denounce the constitutions of these Republics by arbitrary actions arising out capricious motives.

  4. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

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