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Panel criticizes late discovery introduction

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Even while recognizing that the state’s practice of allowing late introduction of evidence basically rewards attorneys who don’t prepare for trial, the Indiana Court of Appeals looked beyond that practice to how the rules still protect a person’s right to a fair trial.

In a unanimous ruling today, the state’s intermediate appellate court issued its decision in Richard Childress, Jr. v. State of Indiana, No. 45A03-0911-CR-520. The appeal stems from a Lake Superior case in which a jury convicted Childress of two class B felonies and robbery and criminal confinement. The sole issue in this appeal is whether the trial court erred in admitting evidence that the state didn’t disclose until the second day of trial.

At issue is how the prosecutor introduced a hooded sweatshirt, apparently worn at the time of the crime, into evidence for the first time on the second day of trial. At a bench conference, the trial court barred the state from including references to the sweatshirt in its case-in-chief but determined it could be admitted as evidence on rebuttal. Childress objected, but the court allowed the new evidence that ultimately resulted in his convictions.

The appellate panel made up of Judge Margret Robb, Patricia Riley, and Elaine Brown affirmed the convictions and determined the prosecutor’s late disclosure didn’t impair Childress’ right to a fair trial.

But most notably, the panel pointed out the nuances and intricacies in the litigation process allowing the kind of late disclosure that happened in this case.

The judges noted how the general discovery principles call for a court to strive for truth, fairness, and judicial efficiency, and that Indiana caselaw reinforces that a defendant must generally object at trial to the admission of discovery not timely disclosed. If that objection is overruled, then caselaw dictates the defendant should seek a continuance, and that continuance and evidentiary issue can be reviewed on appeal. State cases that have led to that holding are Berry v. State, 715 N.E. 2d 864, 866 (Ind. 1999) and Armstrong v. State, 499 N.E.2d 189, 191 (Ind. 1986).

“We agree with Childress’s implicit argument that this rule regrettably rewards attorneys who do not prepare by allowing admission of their untimely-produced discovery,” Judge Robb wrote for the majority. “Neither does this rule penalize the attorney who has failed to adequately investigate and prepare his or her own case or witnesses, preparation which would have led to an earlier detection of the evidence that should have been disclosed earlier. Nevertheless, we observe the wisdom of the rule as it contemplates and provides a remedy where the late disclosure has been intentional or impairs a defendant’s right to a fair trial. While the rule does not advance the practice of law toward promoting justice, it appears to allow sufficiently adequate protection of defendants’ rights to the extent courts genuinely consider whether late disclosure has impaired a defendant’s right to a fair trial. Further, we are not vested with the authority to amend this rule.”

In this case, the judges found that Childress could have requested a continuance or he could have more importantly adjusted his trial strategy going forward to counter the state’s late introduction of the sweatshirt. All of the “unfair circumstances” here could have been avoided, the panel found.

“Although we admonish the State for its failure to prepare its case to timely disclose the evidence, the late disclosure did not impair Childress’s right to a fair trial and we decline to reverse Childress’s convictions,” Judge Robb 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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