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COA: Admission of evidence of phone number did not affect verdict

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Because of overwhelming evidence placing the defendant at the scene of a shooting, the admission of additional evidence that before the shooting, a victim made calls to a phone number associated with the shooter did not affect the verdict, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Friday.

In Michael A. Lane v. State of Indiana, 82A05-1212-CR-640, Michael Lane appealed his convictions of murder, Class B felony conspiracy to commit dealing in a scheduled II controlled substance and two counts of Class C felony criminal recklessness. Lane was to bring money to a drug deal arranged by Jason Derrington for Michael Hooper. When Hooper, his cousin Frank Hurst, and Derrington showed up at the agreed location, Lane got into Hurst’s car with the money. During the transaction, Lane took off and started shooting at the men, killing Hooper and injuring the other two.

Lane appealed his convictions, arguing the trial court abused its discretion by rejecting his tendered jury instruction on reckless homicide as a lesser-included offense of murder and by admitting hearsay evidence after concluding Lane had opened the door to this previously excluded evidence.

The COA found that based on the specific facts of this case, a jury could not reasonably conclude that Lane acted recklessly but not knowingly when he fired the shot that killed Hooper, so an instruction on reckless homicide wasn’t warranted.

During the trial, evidence was admitted that Derrington called a number with a (678) area code four times on the night of the shooting, but that number was not initially linked to a particular person. But evidence linking Lane to that number was introduced through detective Brian Melton, who said that number belonged to Lane’s cousin Obie Davis, whom he had interviewed shortly after the shooting. The issue arose during cross-examination of Melton by defense counsel.

Lane claimed the trial court erroneously determined that he had opened the door to hearsay evidence linking him to the (678) phone number.  The appellate court found Davis’ statement to police regarding the number was testimonial, and the trial court erred in concluding Lane opened the door to the admission of the testimonial statement. A defendant can open the door to the admission of evidence otherwise barred by the Confrontation Clause, but that waiver must be “clear and intentional,” which was not the case here.

But this does not require reversal of Lane’s convictions.

“We are confident that the brief testimonial hearsay evidence admitted through Detective Melton was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt. Although the evidence regarding the phone number tended to establish some link between Lane and the crime, this link had already been shown by other overwhelming evidence establishing that Lane came to the scene to transact a drug deal that ended badly,” he wrote.

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  1. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  2. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  3. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  4. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

  5. I will agree with that as soon as law schools stop lying to prospective students about salaries and employment opportunities in the legal profession. There is no defense to the fraudulent numbers first year salaries they post to mislead people into going to law school.

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