Prosecutor’s comments on defendant not testifying don’t require reversal

May 22, 2014

The Indiana Court of Appeals, in addressing a defendant’s claims of prosecutorial misconduct, found that any misconduct committed was a harmless error and does not require criminal deviate conduct and sexual battery convictions to be overturned.

Craig Bakari Thomas sexually assaulted his classmate K.B. while the two were sitting in a car at a park. Thomas chose not to testify at his trial and was convicted of two counts of Class B felony criminal deviate conduct and one count of Class D felony sexual battery.

In Craig Bakari Thomas v. State of Indiana, 71A04-1305-CR-256, Thomas argued that two comments by a deputy prosecutor resulted in prosecutorial misconduct. Both referred to Thomas not testifying at the trial. The trial court issued an admonishment to the jury regarding the first comment made by the deputy prosecutor that said there is no other story, to disregard the fact that Thomas wasn’t sworn and didn’t testify. The judge did not issue an admonishment regarding the second comment, in which the deputy prosecutor said, “That’s not what the defendant is saying. The defendant is not saying ….” The judge required the deputy prosecutor to clarify that those statements referred to statements Thomas gave to police officers.

With respect to the first comment, the Court of Appeals agreed that the deputy prosecutor’s comments reasonably could be interpreted as an invitation to draw an adverse inference from Thomas’ silence. In fact, the deputy was suggesting that the jury draw an inference of guilt from Thomas’ decision to not be sworn in and tell his story. But the error was harmless, because the state could prove that the comment did not contribute to the verdict. The judge’s curative instruction defused the impact of the state’s improper remark, Judge Patricia Riley wrote.

The COA noted that the second comment did not amount to an indirect reference to Thomas’ decision to not testify.


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