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Court rules on first impression 'alibi' witness issue

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A trial court erred in excluding testimony of a defendant’s witnesses on the ground they were alibi witnesses, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled today in an issue of first impression. Their testimony that the defendant wasn’t at the crime scene was actually a rebuttal of the prosecution’s argument the defendant was present.

In Deborah Edwards v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0911-CR-1093, Deborah Edwards appealed Marion Superior Judge James B. Osborn’s decision to exclude her two witnesses in her criminal recklessness case – Rachel Edwards and Robert Bell – because they were alibi witnesses and she hadn’t filed an alibi notice. Rachel Edwards and Bell were co-defendants on the charge. Deborah Edwards was convicted of the Class D felony.

Deborah Edwards wanted the two to testify that she was not present on the day of the attack, which wouldn’t make them alibi witnesses because they couldn’t testify as to where she was at the time of the crime. Those who want to offer an alibi defense must file a written statement with his or her intention to offer the defense and include specific information on the exact place where the defendant claims to have been on the date in question.

No Indiana court has decided whether an eyewitness to a crime who indicates only that a person was not at the scene of the crime is an alibi witness, noted Judge Melissa May. The appellate judges relied on State v. Volpone, 376 A.2d 199, 202 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1977), and Kansas v. Deffebaugh, 89 P.3d 582, 588 (Kan. 2004), to rule that the trial court erred in excluding the witnesses’ testimony.

“The Volpone court accurately characterizes testimony a defendant was not at a crime scene as rebuttal to the prosecution’s contention the defendant was at the crime scene, which testimony, unlike an alibi claim, requires no further investigation by the prosecution,” wrote Judge May. “We find that characterization consistent with both the dictionary definition of 'alibi' and the language of our alibi statute.”

Evidence of a defendant’s absence from a crime scene isn’t an “alibi” defense, but is a rebuttal of the prosecution’s contention a defendant was at the scene and capable of committing the crime, the judge continued.

The state argued the exclusion was harmless, but there wasn’t overwhelming evidence of Edwards’ presence and involvement in the crime. Three witnesses didn’t identify Edwards as the person holding the bat and beating the victim as the state argued, and Edwards’ mug shot from the day of the attack doesn’t match a witness’ description.

The case is remanded for a new trial.
 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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