Woman’s criminal recklessness, battery convictions against husband affirmed

The Indiana Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a woman’s conviction of misdemeanor battery against her husband despite her claim that the trial court did not allow her to admit evidence relevant to her case.

In the case of Christina Schermerhorn v. State of Indiana, 49A02-1510-CR-1643, Schermerhorn appealed her Class A misdemeanor convictions of criminal recklessness and domestic battery against her husband, Stanley, after the Marion Superior Court did not allow her to present to the jury evidence of Stanley Schermerhorn ’s alleged physical abuse of his son or his alleged use of controlled substances.

The trial came about after Christina Schermerhorn attacked her husband in November 2013, hitting him in the back of the head with her fist and slashing him on the arm with a knife, which forced him to seek treatment for his injuries at the hospital. Both he and Schermehorn testified that she was under the influence of alcohol during the incident.

During the trial, Christina Schermerhorn told the jury that her husband had repeatedly physically, sexually and emotionally abused her, including verbal and physical abuse on the night of the incident. But the court did not allow her to admit as evidence an audio recording of what she said was Stanley Schermerhorn choking his teenage son in her presence in 2011, which prompted her appeal after she was convicted.

Schermerhorn argued that she should have been permitted to admit the audio recording as evidence, and that not allowing her to do so deprived her of her constitutional rights to present a defense. Whether a victim's use of force against a third party is relevant when a defendant raises a claim under the "effects of battery" statute is an issue of first impression.

But in its affirmation of her convictions, the Court of Appeals wrote that it could not conclude that the recording of Stanley Schermerhorn purportedly choking his son was relevant to her “effects of battery” defense and, thus, the trial court did not err in excluding the recording as evidence. Further, if the trial court had erred, the Court of Appeals wrote that it was a harmless error because she had already presented other evidence of her husband’s abuse.

The Court of Appeals also wrote that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it did not instruct the jury on Christina Schermerhorn’s proposed effects of battery defense, saying the language in the final instructions – which dealt with self-defense and effects of battery — given to the jury established that the concepts of self-defense and the effects of battery are related. She had argued that the instructions were inadequate because they did not inform the jury that the effects of battery defense is part of self-defense.

Further, the court wrote that the jury’s final instructions did not misstate the law by telling the jurors that Christina Schermerhorn bore the burden of producing evidence to establish the reasonableness of her belief that the use of unlawful force against her was imminent. The instructions were clear that the state bore the ultimate burden of proof, the court said.

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