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Court can determine when defendant testifies

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2008
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Defendants have the constitutional right to testify at trial, but they do not have the right to dictate when they take the stand, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Feb. 25.

At issue in Kevin Book v. State of Indiana, No. 49A05-0707-CR-385, is whether the trial court violated Book's Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights when he was allegedly compelled to make a decision whether to testify at a particular time during his trial.

Book was accused of smothering to death his girlfriend's 20-month-old daughter with his hand as his girlfriend slept. A jury found Book guilty of murder, and the trial court sentenced him to 60 years in prison, finding no mitigating factors.

Book appealed his conviction. He argued his constitutional rights were violated when the trial court allegedly tried to compel him to testify at a particular point in the trial. Book also believed the court shouldn't have allowed his 10-year-old cousin to testify at trial about an incident that took place between Book and his girlfriend's daughter several days before the murder. Book also appealed the sufficiency of evidence and his sentence.

During his trial, his defense counsel wanted to wait to put Book on the stand until after their only witness, Dr. Scott Wagner, could testify. The court decided Wagner would testify Saturday to accommodate his schedule and to complete the trial before Monday morning. The trial judge told the defense late Friday afternoon that if it had any more evidence besides Wagner, it had to be presented that day.

The trial court was trying to follow a schedule and complete the case in order to hear other cases on its docket. The trial judge told the defense it was up to them whether to rest after Wagner testified and also whether to call Book to the stand, but it could not guarantee there would be enough time to allow Book to testify after Wagner.

Because there was still available time Friday afternoon, the trial judge would not grant a continuance to prepare for Book's testimony, saying Book had a right to testify but did not have the right to testify when he wanted.

Book declined to testify Friday or after Wagner Saturday; the defense rested after Wagner's testimony.

On appeal, Book argued he was forced to testify when the trial court decided he should, not when Book's counsel believed was best. The decision of the trial court violated his constitutional right to determine when he would testify on his own behalf.

Book had plenty of time to prepare his defense, wrote Chief Judge John Baker, since discovery for the case began nearly 14 months prior. Book should have known what Wagner's testimony would include well before he testified, so his defense counsel's claim that Book's testimony hinged upon what Wagner said fails.

Book failed to show how the trial court's actions resulted in any harm or that the trial court prevented his counsel from full participation in the adversary fact-finding process, wrote Chief Judge Baker.

Book wanted his conviction reversed because of the testimony of his 10-year-old cousin was improperly permitted. His cousin testified that days before the murder, Book had told his girlfriend's daughter to shut up and threw a pillow at her.

Book's counsel did not object to the testimony at trial, so "the issue is waived," Chief Judge Baker wrote. Even if the issue wasn't waived, the trial court conveyed to the jury it was to consider the testimony only to understand the relationship between the young child and Book.

Finally, the Court of Appeals determined there was sufficient evidence to support Book's conviction and his 60-year sentence was appropriate.
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  1. I like the concept. Seems like a good idea and really inexpensive to manage.

  2. I don't agree that this is an extreme case. There are more of these people than you realize - people that are vindictive and/or with psychological issues have clogged the system with baseless suits that are costly to the defendant and to taxpayers. Restricting repeat offenders from further abusing the system is not akin to restricting their freedon, but to protecting their victims, and the court system, from allowing them unfettered access. From the Supreme Court opinion "he has burdened the opposing party and the courts of this state at every level with massive, confusing, disorganized, defective, repetitive, and often meritless filings."

  3. So, if you cry wolf one too many times courts may "restrict" your ability to pursue legal action? Also, why is document production equated with wealth? Anyone can "produce probably tens of thousands of pages of filings" if they have a public library card. I understand this is an extreme case, but our Supreme Court really got this one wrong.

  4. He called our nation a nation of cowards because we didn't want to talk about race. That was a cheap shot coming from the top cop. The man who decides who gets the federal government indicts. Wow. Not a gentleman if that is the measure. More importantly, this insult delivered as we all understand, to white people-- without him or anybody needing to explain that is precisely what he meant-- but this is an insult to timid white persons who fear the government and don't want to say anything about race for fear of being accused a racist. With all the legal heat that can come down on somebody if they say something which can be construed by a prosecutor like Mr Holder as racist, is it any wonder white people-- that's who he meant obviously-- is there any surprise that white people don't want to talk about race? And as lawyers we have even less freedom lest our remarks be considered violations of the rules. Mr Holder also demonstrated his bias by publically visiting with the family of the young man who was killed by a police offering in the line of duty, which was a very strong indicator of bias agains the offer who is under investigation, and was a failure to lead properly by letting his investigators do their job without him predetermining the proper outcome. He also has potentially biased the jury pool. All in all this worsens race relations by feeding into the perception shared by whites as well as blacks that justice will not be impartial. I will say this much, I do not blame Obama for all of HOlder's missteps. Obama has done a lot of things to stay above the fray and try and be a leader for all Americans. Maybe he should have reigned Holder in some but Obama's got his hands full with other problelms. Oh did I mention HOlder is a bank crony who will probably get a job in a silkstocking law firm working for millions of bucks a year defending bankers whom he didn't have the integrity or courage to hold to account for their acts of fraud on the United States, other financial institutions, and the people. His tenure will be regarded by history as a failure of leadership at one of the most important jobs in our nation. Finally and most importantly besides him insulting the public and letting off the big financial cheats, he has been at the forefront of over-prosecuting the secrecy laws to punish whistleblowers and chill free speech. What has Holder done to vindicate the rights of privacy of the American public against the illegal snooping of the NSA? He could have charged NSA personnel with violations of law for their warrantless wiretapping which has been done millions of times and instead he did not persecute a single soul. That is a defalcation of historical proportions and it signals to the public that the government DOJ under him was not willing to do a damn thing to protect the public against the rapid growth of the illegal surveillance state. Who else could have done this? Nobody. And for that omission Obama deserves the blame too. Here were are sliding into a police state and Eric Holder made it go all the faster.

  5. JOE CLAYPOOL candidate for Superior Court in Harrison County - Indiana This candidate is misleading voters to think he is a Judge by putting Elect Judge Joe Claypool on his campaign literature. paragraphs 2 and 9 below clearly indicate this injustice to voting public to gain employment. What can we do? Indiana Code - Section 35-43-5-3: Deception (a) A person who: (1) being an officer, manager, or other person participating in the direction of a credit institution, knowingly or intentionally receives or permits the receipt of a deposit or other investment, knowing that the institution is insolvent; (2) knowingly or intentionally makes a false or misleading written statement with intent to obtain property, employment, or an educational opportunity; (3) misapplies entrusted property, property of a governmental entity, or property of a credit institution in a manner that the person knows is unlawful or that the person knows involves substantial risk of loss or detriment to either the owner of the property or to a person for whose benefit the property was entrusted; (4) knowingly or intentionally, in the regular course of business, either: (A) uses or possesses for use a false weight or measure or other device for falsely determining or recording the quality or quantity of any commodity; or (B) sells, offers, or displays for sale or delivers less than the represented quality or quantity of any commodity; (5) with intent to defraud another person furnishing electricity, gas, water, telecommunication, or any other utility service, avoids a lawful charge for that service by scheme or device or by tampering with facilities or equipment of the person furnishing the service; (6) with intent to defraud, misrepresents the identity of the person or another person or the identity or quality of property; (7) with intent to defraud an owner of a coin machine, deposits a slug in that machine; (8) with intent to enable the person or another person to deposit a slug in a coin machine, makes, possesses, or disposes of a slug; (9) disseminates to the public an advertisement that the person knows is false, misleading, or deceptive, with intent to promote the purchase or sale of property or the acceptance of employment;

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