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High court vacates transfer

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The Indiana Supreme Court vacated transfer yesterday in a case in which a defendant appealed his convictions of voluntary manslaughter, carrying a handgun without a license, and finding that he was a habitual offender.

The high court voted 3-2 to vacate transfer to Scottie Adams v. State, No. 71S03-0809-CR-514, with Justice Theodore Boehm writing a five-page dissent with which Justice Frank Sullivan concurred.

The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in a July 25, 2008, opinion that Adams failed to demonstrate that witness Christopher White's refusal to testify had a prejudicial impact on the jury to the extent that a mistrial was warranted. White spontaneously said while on the stand that he was afraid to testify because he was scared for his family and his life. White had been jumped while he was in jail over the case, but didn't show any evidence that Adams was behind it. The trial court told the jury not to consider any statements made by White about his not wanting to testify.

On appeal, Adams also argued the trial court erred in instructing the jury on the offense of voluntary manslaughter when he was originally charged with murder and that since the state didn't amend the information to include the voluntary manslaughter charge, the instructions shouldn't have been given. The Court of Appeals found no authority suggesting a lesser-included offense instruction can't be given in instances where the defendant decides not to present any evidence at trial.

The Supreme Court granted transfer Sept. 23, 2008, and held arguments Dec. 11, 2008.

Justice Boehm's dissent on the denial of transfer hinges on an important issue in the case that needs to be addressed - whether the trial court's admonition satisfactorily addressed the prejudicial impact of the witness' testimony that Adams had threatened him, or whether Adams was entitled to a mistrial.

In the instant case, the trial court asked the jury to ignore the witness' statements but didn't explain why, which left jurors to draw the inference that Adams was behind the threats, wrote Justice Boehm.

"I write separately to express my view that once it was clear no evidence associated Adams with White's concerns, if no mistrial was ordered, the trial court should have at least given more than a generic and conclusory instruction to disregard White's testimony," he wrote.

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