In 3-2 decision, justices reinstate molestation conviction

A 3-2 decision of the Indiana Supreme Court on Thursday reinstated a Class A felony child molestation conviction that the Court of Appeals reversed because the defendant was denied opportunities to admit evidence.

Marq Hall was convicted of molesting M.T., the 12-year-old daughter of his girlfriend, A.D. On appeal, he argued that evidence concerning a phone call between himself and A.D. should have been admitted. In the call, A.D. provided Hall information about a prior incident in Kentucky involving sexual exploration between M.T. and a boy her age that Hall hoped to use to discredit M.T.’s testimony.

A divided Court of Appeals panel majority in September reversed Hall’s conviction and ordered a new trial. Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik dissented, finding the contents of the call should not be admitted and any error in not admitting it was harmless.

The Supreme Court majority agreed with Vaidik’s dissent.

“It is apparent that the trial court’s denial of Hall’s motion to compel discovery, even if in violation of the Sixth Amendment, was harmless beyond reasonable doubt,” Justice Steven David wrote for the majority joined by Justices Brent Dickson and Mark Massa.

“Taken together, and viewed in a light most favorable to the verdict, the evidence against Hall is remarkably strong, would almost certainly survive a sufficiency challenge, and demonstrates that, even though the trial court erred in failing to compel A.D. to answer Hall’s deposition about the Kentucky incident, the jury had before it substantial evidence upon which it could reasonably infer Hall’s guilt.”

Justice Robert Rucker wrote a dissent joined by Chief Justice Loretta Rush. “No matter how finely the evidence is parsed in this case, the inescapable fact is that Hall was denied his Sixth Amendment right of cross-examination,” Rucker wrote, holding that he could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the “clear constitutional error” was harmless.

“I would therefore reverse Hall’s conviction and remand this cause for a new trial,” Rucker wrote.

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