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Prosecutor's conduct leads to child-molesting conviction reversal

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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.







 

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  1. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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