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Man's convictions upheld despite court's use of inadmissible evidence

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The Indiana Court of Appeals found a trial judge abused his discretion in admitting portions of a defendant’s out-of-court taped police statements, but the appellate panel determined that error was harmless and not reason to reverse the man’s multiple rape and sexual conduct convictions.

Ruling on Imari C. Butler v. State of Indiana, No. 49A04-1012-CR-775, the appellate court unanimously upheld a ruling by Marion Superior Judge Kurt Eisgruber.

The case involved a woman identified only as B.G., who in April 2009 went to an Indianapolis club with two friends and later ended up alone with a flat tire. She’d given her cell phone to a friend and forgot to get it before they left the club and went separate ways, so B.G. went to pick up her phone later that night. She ended up driving around lost after 2 a.m. before her car hit a pothole and got a flat tire, leading her to a gas station where Imari Butler offered to fix the flat. He then asked for a ride and tried to touch her underwear before B.G. refused and smacked his hand away. Butler became demanding and angry, punching B.G. in the face and ultimately forcing her to give him oral sex in the car. Afterward, she tried to drive away but he then threatened to kill her and had intercourse with B.G. against her will.

B.G. went home and her roommate took her to the hospital. The rape investigation led to police interviewing Butler as a suspect in B.G.’s rape. The police learned Butler was detained on another matter and took him in custody, recording the interview that led to the state’s charging him with several felonies that included rape, criminal deviate conduct, and criminal confinement.

At a two-day jury trial in November 2010, Butler was convicted and sentenced to a total 60-year executed sentence, with the trial judge ordering 56 of those years to be spent in prison and four years in community corrections.

On appeal, Butler argued that the trial judge shouldn’t have admitted portions of his taped police interview with the detective. He’d objected at trial and stated the evidence was inadmissible, but after a redaction hearing the court allowed as evidence those portions referencing prior crimes, the detective's assertions of fact, and the detective's opinions about Butler’s character and guilt.

The appellate court agreed some of those statements should have been redacted, and it cited the case of Smith v. State, 721 N.E.2d 213, 216 (Ind. 1999), that held out-of-courts statements by police offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted aren’t permitted at trial. That is the same issue in this case, and the appellate judges found this evidence shouldn’t have been allowed.

But relying on Wilkes v. State, 917 N.E. 2d 675, 686 (Ind. 2009), the appeals court held that even despite that error, enough evidence also existed to affirm the convictions and so in the broader picture that error was harmless and doesn’t require reversal. Physical and DNA evidence and testimony are sufficient. The judges also noted that Indiana law allows uncorroborated testimony of a sexual-assault crime victim to be sufficient in sustaining a conviction, which the Court of Appeals held in 2006.

“In light of these facts, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in admitting portions of Butler’s taped interview, but we will not reverse Butler’s convictions because the error was harmless,” Judge Patria Riley wrote.



 

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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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