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COA split on upholding battery conviction

September 30, 2014

The Indiana Court of Appeals was divided Tuesday over whether to affirm a man’s conviction of Class C felony battery by means of a deadly weapon following an attack on his son-in-law. The dissenting judge believed the defendant should have been able to include the victim’s prior inconsistent statements at trial.

In Peter Griffith v. State of Indiana, 48A02-1310-CR-909, Peter Griffith came from across the street to the residence of his daughter and her husband, and began yelling at his son-in-law, Darren Wiles. The court record says Griffith appeared intoxicated and mumbled he would kill Wiles. Griffith ran up on Wiles with a knife in his hand, the two began to scuffle, and Griffith stabbed Wiles.

At his trial, Griffith wanted to introduce the testimony of two witnesses who said that Wiles told them different stories of what happened that day. Griffith was trying to prove self-defense by showing Wiles had a 2x4 piece of lumber and struck him first with it. The 2x4 was never found by police.

The two witnesses testified outside of the presence of the jury, claiming Wiles told them he had a 2x4. After the jury returned, Griffith’s attorney called Griffith to the stand, but he never called Wiles back to the stand to ask about the 2x4.

Griffith was found guilty and sentenced to four years in the Department of Correction.

The majority affirmed, rejecting Griffith’s claim that was denied a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense. He claimed Ind. Evidence Rule 803(3) allowed him to present Wiles’ statements as an exception to the hearsay rule because they revealed Wiles intended to give false testimony or make false allegations.

Judge Elaine Brown wrote that under Evid. Rule 613(b), it would have been improper for the court to admit extrinsic evidence from the two witnesses without giving Wiles a chance to explain or deny the inconsistent statements. Griffith’s counsel never asked Wiles about the 2x4 when Wiles was on the stand, nor did he call him back to testify regarding the statements.

Judge Michael Barnes dissented on this point, believing Federal Rule of Evidence 613(b), which is identical to the Indiana rule, allows impeachment by prior inconsistent statements after the witness to be impeached has already testified, and even if the party wanting to introduce those statements did not cross-examine the witness about those statements.

“The trial court apparently believed Griffith was required to cross-examine Darren about those statements during the State’s case-in-chief, but as Orr v. State, 968 N.E.2d 858, 863 ((Ind. Ct. App. 2012)) had already held, Evidence Rule 613(b) did not require him to do so. The trial court’s ruling was based on a misinterpretation of the law, in my view. A trial court abuses its discretion in ruling on the admissibility of evidence if it has misinterpreted the law,” Barnes wrote.

Since he voted to reverse the conviction, he did not offer an opinion on Griffith’s sentence, which the majority affirmed.
 

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