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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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  3. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  4. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  5. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

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