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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. I grew up on a farm and live in the county and it's interesting that the big industrial farmers like Jeff Shoaf don't live next to their industrial operations...

  2. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  3. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  4. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  5. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

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