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Man not prejudiced when prosecutor read illiterate witness' statement before jury

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Although it would have been better for the trial court to excuse the jury before reading an illiterate witness’s prior statement to him to refresh his memory, any error attributable to its use is harmless, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

Dontevius Hutcherson was charged with murder, murder in the perpetration of a robbery, Class A felony attempted murder, Class A felony robbery, Class B felony aggravated battery and Class C felony battery for shooting at two men. Police took a statement from Victor Lee, who said that Hutcherson told him he had shot and robbed two men. At trial, Lee was able to authenticate his signature on the statement to police and remembered talking to police, but said he couldn’t remember what Hutcherson had told him.

Because Lee is illiterate, the trial court allowed the prosecutor to read the statement aloud to Lee in front of the jury. Lee then said he remembered “half of it but not all.” Hutcherson was found guilty as charged, but the trial court only entered judgment on the murder, attempted murder and robbery charges.

In Dontevius Hutcherson v. State of Indiana, No. 45A03-1109-CR-420, Hutcherson argued that allowing the prosecutor to read Lee’s prior statement aloud in front of the jury to refresh Lee’s memory violated his constitutional right of confrontation. Hutcherson’s attorney had raised a continuing objection to any line of questioning from Lee, but the trial court denied it, stating it would take one question at a time. When the state read the statement aloud, Hutcherson did not object so he waived this issue for appeal, wrote Judge Terry Crone. There was also no fundamental error on this issue.

Regarding the prosecutor reading aloud Lee’s statement before the jury, the COA noted that the court should have excused the jury before the actual reading of the statement to avoid potential prejudice. But Lee’s prior statement is cumulative and corroborated other witnesses’ testimony, so any error attributable to its use is harmless, wrote the judge.

 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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