COA affirms mistrial denial

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a trial court's decision to deny a motion for mistrial and affirmed the defendant's conviction and sentence.

In Michael Hale v. State of Indiana, 43A05-0611-CR-647, Hale appealed his conviction for dealing in cocaine as a Class A felony and his 50-year sentence. He claimed the trial court erred in denying his motion for mistrial because he argued testimony from a witness implied Hale was previously involved in drug activity.

Lance Patrick and Josh Hamilton were asked by the Kosciusko County Drug Task Force to act as confidential informants to have their drug charges reduced or dropped. The pair agreed and met Hale, who they learned would sell them cocaine. Patrick and Hamilton went to Hale's home, and when Hamilton - who was wearing a recording device - came to the door, Hale sent him away saying he didn't trust him. Hamilton sent Patrick to purchase the drugs from Hale.

Hale was arrested the next day and both Patrick and Hamilton testified at the trial. Hamilton told the prosecutor that Hale didn't trust him "because he told me that his best friend wore a wire on him before." Defense counsel objected and the response was struck from the record. Later, Hamilton testified that Dustin Slone, who was sitting in the courtroom, had threatened him about his testimony at trial. Hamilton said Sloan called him that morning and told him not to testify or he would beat him. It wasn't until after Hamilton's questioning was complete that the trial court, outside the presence of the jury, asked for Slone to be escorted out. At that time, the defense counsel moved for a mistrial due to Hamilton's testimony.

The trial court denied that, and a jury found Hale guilty.

Hale appealed, saying the trial court erred in denying his motion for a mistrial because Hale believes Hamilton's testimony that Hale said his best friend had worn a wire implied that Hale was previously involved in drug activity. Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote in the opinion that Hale failed to show that the trial court's action of striking Hamilton's response was insufficient to rectify the situation.

Hale also argued his motion for mistrial should have been granted because of Hamilton's testimony that Slone threatened him the morning of the trial. Defense counsel did not object immediately after Hamilton made the comment, nor did they during redirect or cross-examination of Hamilton. It was only after a 10-minute recess and after Slone had been escorted out that the defense counsel moved for a mistrial on the basis of Hamilton's testimony.

Because Hale did not object to the testimony regarding Slone's threat during trial, he did not give the trial court a chance to rule on the admissibility of such evidence. His motion for mistrial came after Hamilton's testimony was complete, so Hale has waived this issue for review, Judge Vaidik wrote.

The court affirmed the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Hale's motion for a mistrial. The court also affirmed his conviction, citing sufficient evidence; his sentence is also appropriate, given Hale's 26 previous misdemeanor cases and prison time for dealing in cocaine.

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