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COA: Allowing removal of prosthetic eye not an abuse of discretion

March 29, 2017

A trial court’s decision to allow a woman to remove her prosthetic eye in the presence of the jury in a battery case was not an abuse of discretion because the relevancy of the demonstration was not outweighed by possible prejudice against the defendant, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Wednesday.

In July 2015, sisters Crystal and Angela Washington were relaxing at a home in Gary when Angela Washington’s son and daughter, Dominique Bowman, stopped by. After Angela Washington questioned Bowman about her marijuana use, a fight ensued and Bowman struck Crystal Washington in the eye with an iron object.

Crystal Washington began bleeding profusely and doctors ultimately decided that her left eye would need to be removed. The state charged Bowman with Level 3 felony aggravated battery and Level 5 felony battery resulting in serious bodily injury, and during her trial, the court allowed Washington, over Bowman’s objection, to remove her prosthetic eye in the presence of the jury.

Bowman was found guilty as charged and was sentenced to nine years in prison, with five years executed and four served in community corrections. On appeal, Bowman argued that she was unduly prejudiced when the trial court let Washington remove her prosthetic eye in the presence of the jury. Specifically, Bowman said the state had already admitted photos of the eye injury, so the relevancy of a live demonstration was outweighed by the prejudicial effect.

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the conviction in a Wednesday opinion, with Judge Patricia Riley writing that in order to prove Level 3 felony aggravated battery, the state had to establish a “protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily member or organ, not merely an injury on the day of the incident.”

“Even though a ‘conventional alternative’ was already in front of the jury, the State still needed the live demonstration to carry its burden of proof,” Riley wrote.

Further, even if the trial court had abused its discretion in admitting the live demonstration, Riley wrote such an abuse would have amounted to harmless error because Bowman did not have a valid self-defense claim, as she alleged she did, and because she failed to establish the removal of the prosthetic contributed to the guilty verdict.

The case is Dominique Brianna Bowman v. State of Indiana, 45A04-1609-CR-2056.

 

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