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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. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  2. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  3. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  4. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

  5. During a visit where an informant with police wears audio and video, does the video necessary have to show hand to hand transaction of money and narcotics?

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