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Court rules on parental discipline case

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The Indiana Court of Appeals has held that a woman’s prior conviction for battering her daughter in a way similar to a current case is admissible pursuant to the state’s rules of evidence.

In Lavern Ceaser v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-1106-CR-580, the appellate court affirmed several decisions by Marion Superior Master Commissioner Teresa A. Hall in a case involving a mother’s Class D felony battery conviction against her daughter.

The mother, Lavern Ceaser, was accused of battering her 9-year-old daughter by striking her on the arms, back, legs and bottom for as long as 15 minutes and causing the girl to cry and scream in pain. The girl showed a teacher at school the welts the following day and that teacher notified the local Department of Child Services, leading to this case. Ceaser had a previous Class A misdemeanor battery on a child conviction from 2006 involving the same child, who was then 7 years old. The daughter was removed from her mother’s care but then returned to Ceaser in 2008 just several months before this incident occurred.

After the state charged Ceaser with felony battery on a child and trial began, prosecutors wanted to introduce the prior conviction. The trial court ruled that the state couldn’t use the evidence in its case-in-chief but could use the evidence for rebuttal purposes if Ceaser relied on the parental privilege defense.

The mother testified at trial and said she’d tried various ways of disciplining her daughter unsuccessfully because the girl had apparently lied about homework and not keeping her bedroom clean. She said that the 2006 conduct may not have been reasonable, but the felt the 2008 discipline was reasonable. The jury convicted Ceaser, who received a 545-day sentence, with all of the time suspended to probation.

On appeal, Ceaser argued the trial court erred by allowing the prior conviction as evidence, that the court wrongly denied her motion to dismiss, and that evidence was insufficient to rebut her claim of parental privilege.

Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote the 17-page appellate opinion and acknowledged the potential for unfair prejudice was tangible, but the trial court properly limited the evidence and weighed the probative value versus the threat of prejudice.

Specifically, the appellate judges found that the prior conviction was admissible under the intent and lack of accident or mistake exceptions to Indiana Evidence Rule 404(b).

The court also concluded that the trial court properly denied Ceaser’s motion to dismiss and that the trial evidence was sufficient to rebut her claim of parental privilege. Vaidik wrote that Ceaser’s appellate arguments attempt to minimize the harm to her daughter and insist that the mother’s behavior was not excessive but justified. The court described that as an invitation to reweigh the evidence, and it cannot do that.

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  1. The child support award is many times what the custodial parent earns, and exceeds the actual costs of providing for the children's needs. My fiance and I have agreed that if we divorce, that the children will be provided for using a shared checking account like this one(http://www.mediate.com/articles/if_they_can_do_parenting_plans.cfm) to avoid the hidden alimony in Indiana's child support guidelines.

  2. Fiat justitia ruat caelum is a Latin legal phrase, meaning "Let justice be done though the heavens fall." The maxim signifies the belief that justice must be realized regardless of consequences.

  3. Indiana up holds this behavior. the state police know they got it made.

  4. Additional Points: -Civility in the profession: Treating others with respect will not only move others to respect you, it will show a shared respect for the legal system we are all sworn to protect. When attorneys engage in unnecessary personal attacks, they lose the respect and favor of judges, jurors, the person being attacked, and others witnessing or reading the communication. It's not always easy to put anger aside, but if you don't, you will lose respect, credibility, cases, clients & jobs or job opportunities. -Read Rule 22 of the Admission & Discipline Rules. Capture that spirit and apply those principles in your daily work. -Strive to represent clients in a manner that communicates the importance you place on the legal matter you're privileged to handle for them. -There are good lawyers of all ages, but no one is perfect. Older lawyers can learn valuable skills from younger lawyers who tend to be more adept with new technologies that can improve work quality and speed. Older lawyers have already tackled more legal issues and worked through more of the problems encountered when representing clients on various types of legal matters. If there's mutual respect and a willingness to learn from each other, it will help make both attorneys better lawyers. -Erosion of the public trust in lawyers wears down public confidence in the rule of law. Always keep your duty to the profession in mind. -You can learn so much by asking questions & actively listening to instructions and advice from more experienced attorneys, regardless of how many years or decades you've each practiced law. Don't miss out on that chance.

  5. Agreed on 4th Amendment call - that was just bad policing that resulted in dismissal for repeat offender. What kind of parent names their boy "Kriston"?

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