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Trial court erred in denying motion to continue

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A Marion Superior trial court should have granted a woman's motion to continue the day of her bench trial because she had a constitutional right to present a defense to support her involuntary intoxication argument, the Indiana Court of Appeals decided today.

In Jennifer Barber v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0901-CR-34, Jennifer Barber argued the trial court erred in denying her motion because her defense counsel had just located two witnesses who supported her defense of involuntary intoxication the weekend before her trial was to start. Barber was convicted of Class A misdemeanor operating while intoxicated and Class C misdemeanor failure to stop after an accident resulting in property damage.

Barber played pool at an American Legion in Indianapolis and said she only had one vodka martini that night. She claimed she left her drink unattended several times throughout the night. She later got in her car and rear-ended a car and then left the scene of the accident. Barber claimed she doesn't remember anything between the time of playing pool and waking up in the hospital. When arrested, she couldn't stand up and was slurring her words. She consented to a chemical test, but one was never given.

Barber was granted two continuances, the second to allow her to locate witnesses who could testify on her behalf that she was involuntarily intoxicated. It wasn't until the day before her bench trial that her attorney located a key witness - a woman who claimed she too may have been involuntarily drugged that night. The trial court denied the motion to continue because it had set a hard deadline of Dec. 1, 2008, for the witness list; her bench trial was scheduled for Dec. 15.

There's no evidence Barber's attorney acted in bad faith in asking for the continuance and the state would have suffered minimal prejudice in delaying the trial, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik. There was obvious prejudice to Barber from not being able to present the testimony of the other woman and another witness.

"In light of Barber's right to present a defense, the strong presumption in favor of allowing the testimony of even late-disclosed witnesses, the lack of substantial prejudice to the State, and the resultant prejudice to Barber, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in denying Barber's motion to continue and therefore remand for a new trial," the judge wrote.

The appellate court also pointed out for remand that the abstract of judgment shows Barber was convicted under Indiana Code Section 9-30-5-1(b), but according to the charging information, she was charged under section 2(b), which requires her to operate a vehicle while intoxicated in a manner that endangers another person. Because the chemical test and blood draw didn't occur, the appellate court was "perplexed" as to why the trial court entered judgment of conviction under 9-30-5-1, wrote Judge Vaidik.

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