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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. A sad end to a prolific gadfly. Indiana has suffered a great loss in the journalistic realm.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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