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No error in admitting testimony of domestic violence expert

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The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that the admission of testimony by a domestic violence expert at trial did not violate four of Indiana’s evidence rules, as the defendant argued.

In Brian Otte v. State of Indiana, No. 84A01-1108-CR-356, Brian Otte was convicted of Class D felony residential entry; three counts of Class B misdemeanor battery; Class A misdemeanor criminal mischief; Class A misdemeanor operating a vehicle while intoxicated; Class B misdemeanor failure to stop after an accident resulting in damage to unattended vehicle; and being a habitual offender. Otte broke into his ex-girlfriend’s house, beat up her current boyfriend, and hit his ex-girlfriend, Colleen Amos. After leaving, Otte rammed his car into Amos’ several times.

Otte was charged Nov. 15, 2010; on March 15, 2011, he moved for a speedy trial. On April 29, the state moved for a continuance because two police officers would be out of town and unavailable for the May 19, 2011, trial date. Even after offering refunds to the officers for their vacations they would have to reschedule, one officer refused to move his vacation. The trial court granted the state’s motion and reset the trial for June 2.

At trial, after which defense asked Amos about domestic violence allegations she had made against Otte then recanted, the state introduced testimony from Yvonne Creekbaum, a domestic violence expert. She testified that victims of domestic violence routinely recant their stories.

On appeal, Otte challenged the admission of Creekbaum’s testimony and claimed his right to a speedy trial was violated.

The state made multiple attempts to secure the two officers at trial, but one was not amenable to rescheduling the vacation. Given the precedent permitting Criminal Rule 4(D) extensions for witnesses who are out of state and/or on long-planned vacations, the appellate court was satisfied that the extension was justified in the instant case.

The judges also ruled against Otte on his claims that Creekbaum wasn’t qualified under Indiana Evidence Rule 701 to give lay testimony; that Creekbaum was not qualified to be an expert witness under Rule 702; that Creekbaum’s testimony constituted impermissible vouching testimony pursuant to Rule 704(b); and that it was overly prejudicial pursuant to Rule 403.

Judge Nancy Vaidik concurred in result in a separate opinion, noting that she believed Creekbaum’s testimony was admissible under Rule 702 as syndrome evidence to help the jury understand why Amos recanted certain allegations she made against Otte. Battered Women’s Syndrome is a valid scientific theory under Rule 702, she wrote, so Creekbaum’s testimony regarding BWS is admissible.

 

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