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Supreme Court: Be careful about reweighing evidence on appeal

January 1, 2007
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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