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COA: Admitted evidence of 20-year-old crimes requires reversal

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A civil judgment in favor of a woman who claimed her ex-husband battered her and forged her name on a quitclaim deed was vacated Friday. A Court of Appeals panel ruled that evidence of the ex-husband’s criminal convictions from the 1980s were prima facie error.

Terry L. Brown had been convicted of rape in 1984 and check deception in 1985. His ex-wife Tammy Brown sued in 2010, alleging he forged her name on a quitclaim deed to a property they owned jointly and alleging he battered her, rupturing a breast implant. Tammy Brown was awarded $80,000 in damages.

In Terry L. Brown v. Tammy S. Brown, 77A01-1204-PL-180, Judge Melissa May wrote that Indiana Evidence Rule 609 allows that evidence of convictions more than 10 years old may be admitted only if the court determines that the probative value of the conviction outweighs its prejudicial effect.

The rule “requires evidence of a past conviction only be used ‘[f]or the purpose of attacking the credibility of a witness.’ In the instant case, Tammy Brown used the evidence to demonstrate Terry Brown’s bad character and his propensity toward behavior similar to that which she was alleging as a basis for liability,” May wrote in a unanimous decision.

“The evidence was not used for the limited purpose permitted by Evid. R. 609(a), the admission of that evidence was more prejudicial than probative, which violates the exception provided in Evid. R. 609(b),” May wrote. “Accordingly, we reverse and remand.”
 

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