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COA: Admission of prior convictions fundamental error

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The Indiana Court of Appeals ordered a new trial for a sex offender convicted of failing to register while having a prior conviction. The court ruled the evidence regarding his prior convictions for failing to register shouldn’t have been admitted at trial.

In David Sasser v. State of Indiana, No. 79A04-1006-CR-457, David Sasser’s conviction hinged on the credibility of the testimony of Sasser and Tippecanoe Sheriff’s Department detective Greg Haltom.

When Sasser relocated to Indiana, he went to the sheriff’s department to register as a convicted sex offender, but Haltom said he didn’t have to register because the 10-year registration period had expired. After a later encounter with a West Lafayette police officer, Sasser learned that he should register. He immediately went to the sheriff’s department to register, but the computer system was down. He was given Haltom’s phone number and told to call the next morning. Sasser tried to call him several times and left a voicemail, but Haltom never returned the call. Haltom said he didn’t recall Sasser coming into the office the second time or receiving a voicemail. He also claimed he wouldn’t have sent someone home because the computers were down.

Once he was charged with failing to register as a Class D felony, Sasser went to the sheriff’s department and officially registered. He was later charged with Class C felony failure to register as a convicted sex offender while having a prior conviction and convicted on both counts. The trial court merged the convictions into the Class C felony conviction and sentenced him to six years in prison.

At issue is the admission of evidence of Sasser’s prior convictions. Although he didn’t object at trial, the Court of Appeals found the admission to be a fundamental error. While cross-examining Haltom, the defense counsel asked him about the dates in which Sasser had previously registered “And what it also indicates is when he was aware he had to register, he did?”

The trial court found the defense opened the door to evidence about Sasser’s prior convictions for failure to register and the defense didn’t object. The judges found that question didn’t open the door to evidence of Sasser’s prior convictions and the attorney was attempting to clarify the information that was already admitted as part of Exhibit 6.

“But given the fact that this case turned solely on the credibility of the witnesses, we can only conclude that admission of evidence regarding Sasser’s prior convictions for the very crime he was charged with herein was a proverbial poison pill that would have made it nearly impossible for the jury to listen to his version of events objectively and prevented him from receiving a fair trial,” wrote Judge John Baker.

The judges remanded for a new trial.

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  1. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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