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Court error denying police deposition in drug case harmless, COA rules

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A Marion Superior Court should have allowed a defendant to play parts of a police officer’s deposition for impeachment purposes, but the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that failing to admit his inconsistent statement was harmless error.

A jury convicted Michael Gray of Class D felony possession of cocaine, and he was sentenced to four years in prison by Master Commissioner Shatrese M. Flowers. His sentence was enhanced by a habitual substance abuse offender plea.
 
In Michael Gray v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1205-CR-352, Gray’s appeal centers on the testimony of an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officer regarding a traffic stop. Gray was a passenger in a car stopped for speeding, after which police determined the driver’s license was suspended, and a search of the vehicle revealed crack cocaine.

At trial, IMPD officer Christopher Morgan testified that Gray at first said he didn’t know what was going on but later said “no (the cocaine) is not hers.” Gray’s defense disputed the testimony and wanted to play an excerpt from a deposition at which Morgan said Gray had stated instead that he did not want to blame the driver.

The state objected when Gray’s defense began to play the tape, and Flowers declined to admit evidence from the taped deposition.

“Because there was an inconsistency in the officer’s testimony, Gray contends that he should have been allowed to impeach Officer Morgan with his deposition testimony. We agree,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the panel. “Gray should have been permitted to play the specific portion of the tape that contained the inconsistent deposition testimony and give the officer an opportunity to explain the inconsistency.”

“We find the error harmless, however. Officer Morgan ultimately admitted that his testimony may have been inconsistent, making Gray’s impeachment attempt complete — though jurors likely found this admission less persuasive than an audio recording of the officer’s inconsistent statement,” Vaidik wrote. “And the evidence adduced at trial strongly points to Gray’s guilt: when police officers stopped the car Gray was riding in, Gray made furtive movements and appeared nervous. Gray was sitting in the passenger seat, and the cocaine was found in the passenger doorframe. Accordingly, we find no reversible error here.”


 

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