ILNews

Supreme Court: Be careful about reweighing evidence on appeal

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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Indiana's top jurists today issued a cautionary note to the state's Court of Appeals: that reweighing evidence in cases isn't the norm for appellate courts and could mean reversal if that happens.

That message came in the form of a unanimous seven-page opinion authored by Chief Justice Randall Shepard, involving the case Ronnie Drane v. State of Indiana, 45S04-0611-CR-477.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reweighed evidence in a Lake County rape and murder bench trial and, as a result, the justices have dismissed the appellate judges' decision and reinstated the trial court convictions and sentencing.

Drane was charged and convicted in the May 2002 murder and rape of Tomorra "Precious" Taylor, and was sentenced to an aggregate sentence of 85 years. The Court of Appeals reversed in June 2006, concluding the state did not present sufficient evidence to support the convictions.

In September, on a state request for rehearing, the Court of Appeals issued a second memorandum opinion on the case. Though noting its awareness of not being in a position to reweigh evidence or judge witness credibility, the court affirmed its earlier ruling and again stated the evidence was insufficient.

But Chief Justice Shepard wrote today that, "There is more than sufficient evidence to support both the murder and rape convictions."

Citing from its past decisions, he wrote that "appellate courts must consider only the probative evidence and reasonable evidence supporting the verdict," and that it's "the fact-finder's role, not that of appellate courts, to assess witness credibility and weigh the evidence to determine whether it is sufficient to support a conviction."

The chief justice also noted that appellate courts affirm convictions unless "no reasonable fact-finder could find the elements of the crime proven beyond a reasonable doubt."
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  1. Whether you support "gay marriage" or not is not the issue. The issue is whether the SCOTUS can extract from an unmentionable somewhere the notion that the Constitution forbids government "interference" in the "right" to marry. Just imagine time-traveling to Philadelphia in 1787. Ask James Madison if the document he and his fellows just wrote allowed him- or forbade government to "interfere" with- his "right" to marry George Washington? He would have immediately- and justly- summoned the Sergeant-at-Arms to throw your sorry self out into the street. Far from being a day of liberation, this is a day of capitulation by the Rule of Law to the Rule of What's Happening Now.

  2. With today's ruling, AG Zoeller's arguments in the cases of Obamacare and Same-sex Marriage can be relegated to the ash heap of history. 0-fer

  3. She must be a great lawyer

  4. Ind. Courts - "Illinois ranks 49th for how court system serves disadvantaged" What about Indiana? A story today from Dave Collins of the AP, here published in the Benton Illinois Evening News, begins: Illinois' court system had the third-worst score in the nation among state judiciaries in serving poor, disabled and other disadvantaged members of the public, according to new rankings. Illinois' "Justice Index" score of 34.5 out of 100, determined by the nonprofit National Center for Access to Justice, is based on how states serve people with disabilities and limited English proficiency, how much free legal help is available and how states help increasing numbers of people representing themselves in court, among other issues. Connecticut led all states with a score of 73.4 and was followed by Hawaii, Minnesota, New York and Delaware, respectively. Local courts in Washington, D.C., had the highest overall score at 80.9. At the bottom was Oklahoma at 23.7, followed by Kentucky, Illinois, South Dakota and Indiana. ILB: That puts Indiana at 46th worse. More from the story: Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, Colorado, Tennessee and Maine had perfect 100 scores in serving people with disabilities, while Indiana, Georgia, Wyoming, Missouri and Idaho had the lowest scores. Those rankings were based on issues such as whether interpretation services are offered free to the deaf and hearing-impaired and whether there are laws or rules allowing service animals in courthouses. The index also reviewed how many civil legal aid lawyers were available to provide free legal help. Washington, D.C., had nearly nine civil legal aid lawyers per 10,000 people in poverty, the highest rate in the country. Texas had the lowest rate, 0.43 legal aid lawyers per 10,000 people in poverty. http://indianalawblog.com/archives/2014/11/ind_courts_illi_1.html

  5. A very thorough opinion by the federal court. The Rooker-Feldman analysis, in particular, helps clear up muddy water as to the entanglement issue. Looks like the Seventh Circuit is willing to let its district courts cruise much closer to the Indiana Supreme Court's shorelines than most thought likely, at least when the ADA on the docket. Some could argue that this case and Praekel, taken together, paint a rather unflattering picture of how the lower courts are being advised as to their duties under the ADA. A read of the DOJ amicus in Praekel seems to demonstrate a less-than-congenial view toward the higher echelons in the bureaucracy.

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