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Man not prejudiced when prosecutor read illiterate witness' statement before jury

April 30, 2012

Although it would have been better for the trial court to excuse the jury before reading an illiterate witness’s prior statement to him to refresh his memory, any error attributable to its use is harmless, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

Dontevius Hutcherson was charged with murder, murder in the perpetration of a robbery, Class A felony attempted murder, Class A felony robbery, Class B felony aggravated battery and Class C felony battery for shooting at two men. Police took a statement from Victor Lee, who said that Hutcherson told him he had shot and robbed two men. At trial, Lee was able to authenticate his signature on the statement to police and remembered talking to police, but said he couldn’t remember what Hutcherson had told him.

Because Lee is illiterate, the trial court allowed the prosecutor to read the statement aloud to Lee in front of the jury. Lee then said he remembered “half of it but not all.” Hutcherson was found guilty as charged, but the trial court only entered judgment on the murder, attempted murder and robbery charges.

In Dontevius Hutcherson v. State of Indiana, No. 45A03-1109-CR-420, Hutcherson argued that allowing the prosecutor to read Lee’s prior statement aloud in front of the jury to refresh Lee’s memory violated his constitutional right of confrontation. Hutcherson’s attorney had raised a continuing objection to any line of questioning from Lee, but the trial court denied it, stating it would take one question at a time. When the state read the statement aloud, Hutcherson did not object so he waived this issue for appeal, wrote Judge Terry Crone. There was also no fundamental error on this issue.

Regarding the prosecutor reading aloud Lee’s statement before the jury, the COA noted that the court should have excused the jury before the actual reading of the statement to avoid potential prejudice. But Lee’s prior statement is cumulative and corroborated other witnesses’ testimony, so any error attributable to its use is harmless, wrote the judge.

 

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