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Prior misconduct negates self-defense claim

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Evidence of a defendant's prior alleged domestic violence incidents against his ex-wife shouldn't have been admitted to explain the ex-wife's animosity toward him, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded today. However, the evidence was admissible because it was relevant to prove the ex-husband's motive to commit the domestic violence he was charged with in the instant case.

In Christopher R. Embry v. State of Indiana, No. 30A04-0906-CR-346, Christopher Embry challenged the admittance of five prior incidents of domestic violence he allegedly committed against his ex-wife, Miki. Embry was charged with Class D felony domestic battery in the instant case after he and Miki got into a physical altercation at her house in which he pushed her to the ground and hit her. Embry claimed he was acting in self-defense. The trial court initially granted Embry's motion that the previous incidents were inadmissible under Indiana Evidence Rules 404(b) and 403.

While on the stand, the defense counsel asked Miki about derogatory comments she had written about Embry on her blog. Based on her testimony, the trial court found Embry had opened the door to allow evidence of the prior incidents and allowed the state to question Miki about them. Embry was found guilty.

The state claimed the evidence of his prior acts of violence was admissible either to rehabilitate Miki's credibility or to prove Embry's motive for committing the crime. The appellate court rejected the state's first argument. Some jurisdictions have held that if the defense elicits a bias on the part of a state's witness, the state can respond by introducing the defendant's prior uncharged misconduct to explain the witness' antipathy. The judges decided not to adopt that view. Instead, they believed the use of uncharged misconduct in this manner belies the rules and purposes of witness rehabilitation.

"Offering the defendant's prior bad acts to explain a witness's animosity only reinforces - rather than disproves - the witness's disposition. Introduction of the defendant's uncharged misconduct thus violates the rule of logical refutation and has no rehabilitative value," wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik.

However, that evidence was relevant to show Embry's motive to commit the domestic battery charge. If a defendant claims self-defense and he advances a claim of particular contrary intent, it allows the state to be able to use his prior misconduct to disprove the victim was the first aggressor, the judge wrote.

"Embry's prior acts of violence against Miki evidenced his hostility toward her, which in turn was admissible to demonstrate his motive for a violent attack, which made more probable the conclusion that he assaulted her and instigated the entire physical confrontation," she wrote.

Although there was a danger of prejudice given the number of prior bad acts mentioned, the trial court gave a limiting instruction and admonished the jury that the evidence wasn't admitted to demonstrate character or prove action in conformity therewith, so there was no error in admitting the evidence.

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  1. Based on several recent Indy Star articles, I would agree that being a case worker would be really hard. You would see the worst of humanity on a daily basis; and when things go wrong guess who gets blamed??!! Not biological parent!! Best of luck to those who entered that line of work.

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  4. Law school is social control the goal to produce a social product. As such it began after the Revolution and has nearly ruined us to this day: "“Scarcely any political question arises in the United States which is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question. Hence all parties are obliged to borrow, in their daily controversies, the ideas, and even the language, peculiar to judicial proceedings. As most public men [i.e., politicians] are, or have been, legal practitioners, they introduce the customs and technicalities of their profession into the management of public affairs. The jury extends this habitude to all classes. The language of the law thus becomes, in some measure, a vulgar tongue; the spirit of the law, which is produced in the schools and courts of justice, gradually penetrates beyond their walls into the bosom of society, where it descends to the lowest classes, so that at last the whole people contract the habits and the tastes of the judicial magistrate.” ? Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

  5. Attorney? Really? Or is it former attorney? Status with the Ind St Ct? Status with federal court, with SCOTUS? This is a legal newspaper, or should I look elsewhere?

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