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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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  1. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

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