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COA: Admission of prior bad acts was a harmless error

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The Indiana Court of Appeals found that evidence of a defendant’s prior bad acts was not properly admitted at his trial for theft of gasoline, but affirmed his conviction because the admission was a harmless error.

Nathaniel Baker was convicted of Class D felony theft for stealing 45 gallons of gasoline belonging to David Stephan. He and two other men were with him when the gasoline was stolen. Baker argued when he was charged that he was with his fiancée at the time in question.

In appealing his conviction, Baker argued that the trial court improperly allowed testimony of cohort J.L. that this was not the first time the two had stolen gasoline. He claimed the evidence was introduced only to show he had a propensity to steal gas; the state claimed it was introduced to show Baker’s knowledge, identity and intent.

The COA concluded in Nathaniel Baker v. State of Indiana, 35A05-1210-CR-543, that evidence of Baker’s prior bad acts was not properly admitted under the knowledge, identity or intent exceptions of Evidence Rule 404(b). Baker did not place his intent or knowledge into issue and there’s no evidence this is a “signature” crime of Baker.

But the judges were convinced that there is no substantial likelihood that the questioned evidence contributed to Baker’s conviction in light of the testimony by his co-conspirators about their actions and the jury’s apparent determination that their testimony was more credible than Baker’s fiancée’s testimony, Judge Cale Bradford wrote. As such, the erroneous admission of the prior bad acts evidence was harmless.

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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