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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. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

  5. I have a appeals hearing for the renewal of my LPN licenses and I need an attorney, the ones I have spoke to so far want the money up front and I cant afford that. I was wondering if you could help me find one that takes payments or even a pro bono one. I live in Indiana just north of Indianapolis.

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