ILNews

COA rules on stipulation requirement

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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Prosecutors must be allowed to present their cases as they see fit and not be forced into agreements, the Indiana Court of Appeals confirmed today.

In State of Indiana v. Harold Lewis, No. 72A05-0610-CR-564, the three-judge panel unanimously reversed and remanded the case to Scott Superior Judge Nicholas South. The trial judge had determined in 2006 to grant the defendant's motion prohibiting prosecutors from mentioning the death of the man who Lewis had shot. He was being tried on a felony charge of criminal recklessness that Lewis had "knowingly or intentionally inflicted serious bodily injury" onto Dennis Hensley by shooting him in the right leg with a shotgun. Hensley died a day later.

Lewis argued that mentioning Hensley's death would be prejudicial because the state already planned to present photos showing Hensley's wound and him lying in a pool of blood. Lewis agreed to a stipulation allowing prosecutors to tell the jury he'd caused "serious bodily injury," but the state refused. Judge South granted the motion preventing a mention of Hensley's death and allowing the stipulation.

On interlocutory appeal, the state contended it should be able to present its case how it wishes and not be forced into a stipulation, while Lewis argued that "serious bodily injury" was abundantly clear from the photos not being challenged at trial and that mentioning death wouldn't be relevant but would be unfairly inflammatory.

The appellate court disagreed. Judge Terry Crone wrote that caselaw has already determined death falls into the category of serious bodily injury; he cited Nelson v. State, 664 N.E.2d 386, 388 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996) as authority. In deciding that the state couldn't be forced into the stipulation, the court relied on Perigo v. State, 541 N.E.2d 936, 940 (Ind. 1989) that held a party can refuse to stipulate to any facts; and Hines v. State, 801 N.E. 2d 634, 635 (Ind. 2004), that held the state is entitled to prove its case by evidence of its own choice and criminal defendants can't stipulate their way out of full evidentiary forces of a case being presented.

"Applying the aforementioned law to the present dispute, we must conclude that while Lewis was free to request a stipulation regarding serious bodily injury, the State was not required to agree," Judge Crone wrote, noting that all gory photos and the fact that Hensley died are "fair game" as long as they adhere to the Indiana Rules of Evidence.

In today's opinion, Judge Crone also wrote a footnote on Page 6 of the opinion pointing out an eight-month delay in this case being transferred from the appellate clerk's office to the court - despite it being an interlocutory appeal that gets expedited according to the state's appellate rules. This is the fifth such delay pointed out in opinions since late last year, although the appellate clerk has told Indiana Lawyer that the internal office backlog causing delays was resolved in late February. None of the opinions to date have described delays occurring since then.
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  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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