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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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  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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