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Justices affirm stabbing conviction in evidence appeal

June 2, 2015

An Anderson man convicted of stabbing his son-in-law lost his appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court Tuesday. The man claimed the trial court wrongly excluded evidence that the victim told others that he had struck the man with a two-by-four piece of lumber before the knife attack.

Justices unanimously affirmed the Class C felony battery conviction and four-year sentence for stabbing Darren Wiles in Peter Griffith v. State of Indiana, 48S02-1501-CR-10.

“We conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in excluding this testimony. First, it was never established on the record whether Darren was still available to be recalled as a witness to either explain or deny the alleged prior statements,” Justice Steven David wrote for the court. “Second, although Griffith attempts to emphasize the importance of attacking Darren’s credibility, the significance of Darren’s credibility is decreased due to two other eyewitnesses who corroborated Darren’s testimony that Griffith was the initial aggressor.”

A divided Court of Appeals affirmed Griffith’s conviction, but Judge Michael Barnes would have reversed and remanded, holding that under Rule of Evidence 613(b), evidence of prior inconsistent statements for impeachment is allowed even if the party seeking to introduce the statements did not cross-examine the witness about them.

The Supreme Court opinion in Griffith gives trial courts broad discretion regarding such evidence.

“Although  the  trial  court  properly  exercised  its  discretion  in  excluding  this  evidence,  we also seek to emphasize that it would not have been (error) to allow Darren to be recalled as a witness and to be questioned about the alleged prior inconsistent statement,” David wrote.   
 
Justices also noted it was never established in the record that Wiles was still available to be recalled as a witness to explain or deny the alleged statements, and Griffith failed to explain why the victim was not cross-examined when he was afforded the opportunity to do so. Also, two eyewitnesses testified that Griffith was the aggressor, lessening the impact of any potential testimony undercutting Wiles’ credibility.

“Furthermore, even if the trial court in the present case did err in excluding the testimonies, we would conclude that the error was harmless. Although Griffith claims that this testimony was significant to prove his claim of self-defense, it does not appear that a self-defense argument was ever developed at trial.”

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