Prosecutor's conduct leads to child-molesting conviction reversal

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The Indiana Court of Appeals said a Tippecanoe County man has the right to a retrial on a child molestation charge because the prosecutor inappropriately vouched for the victim’s credibility and had offered to show the victim a transcript of past statements without the teenager asking for that recollection.

In a unanimous ruling Tuesday in Michael J. Gaby v. State of Indiana, No. 79A02-1006-CR-804, the three-judge appellate panel reversed the Class A felony child molesting conviction and remanded for retrial before Tippecanoe Superior Judge Thomas Bush.

The case involves a girl known as M.C., born in 1993, who lived in the same apartment complex as Michael Gaby in the mid-90s. He watched her along with other children when M.C.’s mother went to work. One time, he was alone with the girl and told her to try on some clothes that his young daughter of the same age had outgrown. She undressed, and the court record says that Gaby put a blanket over her and used his fingers to molest her while she was sitting on the bed. The girl didn’t go to Gaby’s apartment alone after this incident, and Gaby and his daughter later moved out of the apartment. She never reported the incident until April 2009, when she was 15 years old and told a teacher what Gaby had done to her. That teacher contacted police and the investigation began, with Gaby denying he’d molested the girl.

Police charged him with felony child molesting in June 2009 and amended the charges in March 2010 based on dates of the incident. After a two-day trial, a jury found Gaby guilty. The trial court sentenced him to 20 years in prison and ordered that he serve that as a credit-restricted felon, based on a 2008 state statute, meaning that a convict only earns one day of credit for every six served.

But what led to this appellate reversal is the prosecutor’s conduct at trial. Gaby argued that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the prosecutor to refresh M.C.’s recollection using a transcript from a previous interview. The girl testified at trial that Gaby hadn’t spoken or touched her anywhere else, but the prosecutor then showed her a past statement contradicting that. Gaby’s counsel objected and the trial court allowed it, saying attorneys are able to impeach their own witnesses on the stand. But the appellate panel disagreed, citing Indiana Rules of Evidence and past precedent stating that a witness must first state that he or she does not recall information sought by the questioner in order for the attorney to refresh that individual.

“We agree with Gaby that the transcript clearly shows that M.C. did not testify as to any lack of recollection regarding the events before the prosecutor showed her the transcript of previous statement,” Judge Paul Mathias wrote. “M.C. simply gave answers the prosecutor neither expected nor desired. The prosecutor attempted to rectify this by having M.C. read the transcript of her previous statement, after which M.C. still struggled to give the prosecutor the desired answers.”

The appeals court also found the prosecutor erred by saying she was “confident” that the jury would find M.C. credible, and that resulted in improper vouching on an issue central in this case.

Sending the case back for retrial, the appellate panel found the recollection and vouching issues to be non-harmless errors. A retrial is possible and double jeopardy doesn’t apply, said the appellate judges. They also determined that if Gaby is found guilty, he can’t be sentenced as a credit-restricted felon because the court in Upton v. State, 904 N.E. 2d 700, 704 (Ind. Ct. App. 2009), found that restriction unconstitutional when applied retroactively.



Post a comment to this story

We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.