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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. Indianapolis employers harassment among minorities AFRICAN Americans needs to be discussed the metro Indianapolis area is horrible when it comes to harassing African American employees especially in the local healthcare facilities. Racially profiling in the workplace is an major issue. Please make it better because I'm many civil rights leaders would come here and justify that Indiana is a state the WORKS only applies to Caucasian Americans especially in Hamilton county. Indiana targets African Americans in the workplace so when governor pence is trying to convince people to vote for him this would be awesome publicity for the Presidency Elections.

  2. Wishing Mary Willis only God's best, and superhuman strength, as she attempts to right a ship that too often strays far off course. May she never suffer this personal affect, as some do who attempt to change a broken system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QojajMsd2nE

  3. Indiana's seatbelt law is not punishable as a crime. It is an infraction. Apparently some of our Circuit judges have deemed settled law inapplicable if it fails to fit their litmus test of political correctness. Extrapolating to redefine terms of behavior in a violation of immigration law to the entire body of criminal law leaves a smorgasbord of opportunity for judicial mischief.

  4. I wonder if $10 diversions for failure to wear seat belts are considered moral turpitude in federal immigration law like they are under Indiana law? Anyone know?

  5. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

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