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Judges affirm criminal reckless conviction

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A man who turned his car sharply enough to force his girlfriend out of the car and onto the road had his conviction of Class A misdemeanor criminal recklessness affirmed by the Indiana Court of Appeals.

Michael Zanussi argued the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion for a continuance one day before his jury trial was to begin, that the trial court committed fundamental error when it admitted letters he wrote while in jail before trial, and that the state didn’t prove he committed the crime.

Zanussi was arguing in his car with Danielle Effinger when she became upset and unhooked her seatbelt and opened the door just enough that it wasn’t latched anymore. Zanussi then hit the gas and turned the wheel sharply, causing the door to fly open. Effinger flew out of the car and suffered minor injuries.

Five days before his trial was to start, Zanussi obtained replacement counsel. His new attorney said he could be prepared for the March 19 jury trial, but the day before the trial was set to start, the attorney sought a continuance because he had to travel to Chicago that day. The trial court denied the continuance.

Zanussi said he needed the continuance to deal with new evidence, but the attorney was granted time to discuss the new evidence with Zanussi prior to the start of trial, Judge Melissa May pointed out in Michael E. Zanussi v. State of Indiana, 29A05-1304-CR-173. Zanussi’s attorney also previously told the judge that he was prepared for trial, and there was no explanation how the motion to continue would aid in his preparation.

The judges found no fundamental error in the admittance of letters Zanussi wrote to Effinger while in jail that encouraged her not to testify. The state redacted the portions of the letter indicating Zanussi was in jail when he wrote the letters.

“Zanussi does not indicate specifically how the admission of the letters deprived him of a fair trial. The letters, especially Exhibit 7R, are highly probative, as they include statements indicating Zanussi was guilty and asking Effinger not to testify. Effinger’s mention that the letters were sent from jail was fleeting, as it happened once, and the State agreed to redact portions of the letters that indicated Zanussi was in jail. As the letters were not more prejudicial than probative, their admission was not an abuse of discretion and did amount to fundamental error,” May wrote.

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