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COA upholds man’s convictions for molesting teenage relative

March 26, 2018

A northern Indiana man convicted of molesting a teenage relative has lost his appeal of his two felony convictions after the Indiana Court of Appeals found neither the trial court nor the man’s trial counsel erred.

While 13-year-old S.B. was visiting family in Elkhart County in the summer of 2004, his relative, James Hinkle, isolated the boy, performed oral sex on him then forced the child to manually stimulate him. The molestation was repeated the following summer.

Meanwhile, S.B. began to use opioids and marijuana, and when his family confronted him about his drug use, he revealed Hinkle’s molestation. S.B.’s family reported Hinkle to the police, and the teenager subsequently participated in multiple video-taped interviews with police and the local Child and Family Advocacy Center.

After Hinkle was charged in 2008, deputy prosecuting attorney Susan Snyder invited Marielena Duerring, Hinkle’s counsel, to view the video recordings and case files at any time, provided she executed a discovery compliance agreement to keep all privilege information to herself. Then, on the morning of Hinkle’s 2013 trial, the state amended the charging information to include Class A felony child molesting, Class D felony sexual misconduct with a minor and being a repeat sexual offender.

During the subsequent trial, Duerring cross-examined S.B. and posited that he made up the molestation stories to avoid consequences for his drug use. But the Elkhart Superior Court excluded S.B.s’ drug use from evidence, and Hinkle was found guilty as charged.

Hinkle then sought post-conviction relief and requested that his PCR counsel be given access to all discovery Duerring had access to during the trial.  Duerring declined to do so without prosecutorial consent, which was denied. He then filed a motion to compel for “all information upon which (the State) relied in bringing the charges,” which the post-conviction court denied.

The post-conviction court also denied Hinkle’s PCR petition, so he employed the Davis-Hatton procedure to bring his appeal in James E. Hinkle v. State of Indiana, 20A03-1703-PC-690. The first issue Hinkle raised on appeal was whether the trial court erred in prohibiting the admission of S.B.’s drug use into evidence, a decision the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld.

Specifically, Judge Edward Najam wrote in a unanimous Monday opinion found Hinkle did not present a basis other than speculation to support the argument that S.B. made up the molestation allegations to avoid the consequences of his drug use. Instead, Najam pointed to testimony in which S.B. said he did not know his family was considering consequences for his drug use, but instead thought they were having an open conversation.

The appellate court also upheld the limits imposed on Hinkle’s ability to “discover potential acts of ineffective assistance of trial counsel,” pointing to precedent from Roche v. State, 690 N.E.2d 1115, 1132-33 (Ind. 1997). Noting that Hinkle did not point to specific information in the state’s files that could prove his ineffective assistance of counsel claim, the court determined “Hinkle’s discovery requests in the post-conviction process ere improper fishing expeditions… .”

The court then determined each of Hinkle’s six ineffective assistance of counsel claims failed. Hinkle failed to demonstrate error on any of the claims he raised, which related to failures to object, witnesses, improper investigations and jury instructions, Najam said.

Finally, Hinkle argued the post-conviction court failed to enter findings of fact and conclusions of law as required under Indiana Post-Conviction Rule 1(6), but the appellate court disagreed. Instead, Najam said the post-conviction court’s findings met the rule’s requirement of making “findings of fact which are sufficient to enable this Court to dispose of the issues upon appeal.”

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