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Man not entitled to separate molestation trials, justices hold

May 13, 2015

The Indiana Supreme Court on Tuesday rejected a man’s argument that he was entitled to three separate trials on the allegations he molested his three granddaughters. In doing so, two justices said they believe the Supreme Court needs to give more guidance on motions to sever.

Daniel Lee Pierce was convicted of various child molestation charges related to granddaughter K.P. and step-granddaughters V.H. and B.H. He moved to sever the charges, but the motion was denied. A split Court of Appeals in a memorandum decision reversed his convictions and ordered new and separate trials. It concluded his actions lacked a distinctive pattern showing he must be the perpetrator and that the offenses were joined merely because they were of the “same or similar character.”

In Daniel Lee Pierce v. State of Indiana, 78S05-1407-CR-460, the Supreme Court disagreed and upheld the decision to deny Pierce’s motion to sever the charges.

“We decline to require separate trials as of right where the defendant committed the same crime, in substantially the same way, against similar victims. Because Pierce’s criminal acts were sufficiently connected together, he was not entitled to severance,” Justice Mark Massa wrote.

On this issue, Justices Robert Rucker and Brent Dickson in a separate concurring in result opinion wrote that the high court needs to provide “greater clarity to an area of the law that remains in a state of confusion.” Rucker pointed to the opposite conclusions reached by the Supreme Court and the COA on the severance issue when using the traditional approach – looking at the facts in the case, comparing them to another case, and then reaching a conclusion based on the comparison – in resolving claims of severance.

But all the justices agreed that, in addition to Pierce not being entitled to new and separate trials, any error in excluding Pierce’s proffered impeachment testimony regarding one of his victims was harmless and the trial court did not err by admitting evidence of pornography and pornographic domain names found on his computer at trial.  

The high court remanded for the trial court to correct his sentence of Class A felony child molesting relating to one victim who was under 12 years of age when the molestation occurred. The trial court erred by suspending six years of Pierce’s 30-year sentence on that count. A portion of the sentence may only be suspended if the sentence is in excess of 30 years.

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