Because the extent of prior bad acts admitted into evidence during a man’s trial in Hancock County was “breathtaking,” the Indiana Court of Appeals ordered he be retried on burglary and handgun charges.
Michael Williams Jr. was convicted of Class B felonies burglary and conspiracy to commit burglary, and Class C felony carrying a handgun without a license. Williams, along with two other men, agreed to break into the home of Gregory Peek to steal marijuana, money and guns from him. Williams was the only one who entered the home and was later taken into custody by police.
A “deluge” of Williams’ previous criminal acts were admitted into evidence without objection and used by the state to argue that Williams had a propensity to commit the crimes for which he was charged. That evidence included previous felony convictions for possession of cocaine and a firearm, an arrest for possession of marijuana and carrying a handgun without a license, and various other offenses Williams admitted to a police officer that he had committed.
Williams’ attorney never objected to the admission of this evidence, which was inadmissible under Indiana Evidence Rule 404(b), the judges held, so her performance was deficient. And Williams was prejudiced by her poor performance.
“We are not confident that without the evidence of Williams’ prior crimes and gun-related acts the result of the proceeding would have been the same. Learning of an extensive criminal history of an accused surely weighs heavily on the minds of jurors,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote in Michael Williams, Jr. v. State of Indiana, 30A01-1207-CR-305.
She pointed out that the state also systematically elicited improper testimony and ultimately encouraged the jury to convict Williams on that basis.
The COA reversed the convictions and ruled that Williams can be retried on the three charges.