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COA upholds domestic battery conviction

August 7, 2012

A trial court did not abuse its discretion when it denied a man accused of hitting his live-in girlfriend the opportunity to cross-examine her about a past domestic battery incident, the Court of Appeals concluded.

Matthew Manuel faced several domestic battery and battery charges stemming from an incident involving D.S., with whom he lived for eight years and had a child. He also helped raise her child from a previous relationship. When Manuel saw D.S. delete an email on her computer, and she refused to tell him what she deleted, he got angry and hit her on the forehead with a cell phone. They argued and he ended up throwing the laptop on the floor and hit her on the head with it twice before grabbing D.S. and choking her.

D.S. called 911 when Manuel left the home to take their daughter’s computer to his car.

Manuel was convicted of the four charges, which were all merged into his Class D felony domestic battery conviction.

He claimed on appeal the trial court should have allowed him to ask D.S. more about a domestic battery charge in 2005 that was dropped. The state objected because it didn’t know about the specifics of the incident; Manuel argued it was relevant because it related to D.S.’s credibility as a witness. The charges were dropped after D.S. talked to the state, and he wanted to know whether she filed a recantation admitting the abuse never happened. The appellate court concluded that evidence of D.S.’s recantation was precluded under Ind. Evid. R. 608(b).

Manuel also argued the state was improperly allowed to bolster the truthfulness of D.S.’s testimony. The state asked if D.S. had been truthful about what happened in the laptop incident, which came after the defense counsel elicited testimony from D.S. that attempted to impeach her credibility. She gave conflicting answers regarding when Manuel first hit her or whether he went outside during the incident.

“Because the impeachment related to truthfulness, we further conclude that questioning D.S. on re-direct regarding whether she had testified truthfully logically refuted the specific focus of Manuel’s attack,” Judge Patricia Riley wrote. “Thus, the State’s question was properly intended to rehabilitate its witness, rather than bolster her testimony, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in allowing the question.”

Finally, the Court of Appeals concluded that the state presented sufficient evidence to support Manuel’s conviction. Even though the two children were not in the same room at the time of the incident, they were present in their bedrooms and one child testified she could hear them arguing and it made her sad. The judges also rejected Manuel’s claim that D.S.’s testimony was incredibly dubious.

 

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