Justices take ‘fruit of the poisonous tree’ molestation case

March 27, 2018

The Indiana Supreme Court will decide if a man’s child molestation convictions must be struck under the fruit of the poisonous tree doctrine after granting transfer to a Blackford County case last week.

The case of David Wright v. State of Indiana, 18S-CR-166, began in January 2016, when FBI special agent Jeffrey Robertson executed a search on the apartment in Hartford City that David Wright shared with a married couple and their children. The apartment was divided into two units — 220 and 220½ E. Water St. — and Robertson’s search warrant was designated for the unit at 220½. Though Wright and the family lived at the 220 unit, Robertson executed the warrant and discovered at least one child pornography image on Wright’s computer.

A subsequent conversation between Robertson and Wright led to Wright’s confession to performing numerous sexual acts with two children 10 years old and younger. Though the Blackford Circuit Court excluded all evidence obtained from the unconstitutional search of the apartment and computers, Wright was found guilty of four counts of Level 1 felony child molestation based on his confessions to Robertson and local police.

The Indiana Court of Appeals, however, reversed Wright’s convictions in January after finding his incriminating statements were directly derived from the unconstitutional search. Thus, those statements — including Wright’s confession — were considered fruit of the poisonous tree.

The Supreme Court unanimously granted the state’s petition to transfer. Oral argument has not yet been scheduled.

The justices also unanimously granted transfer to In Re the Adoption of E.B.F., J.W. v. D.F., 18S-AD-17, last week, but were divided in their Friday ruling on the adoption case. The Court of Appeals originally ruled in July that J.W.’s consent to her child’s adoption was not required because she had not significantly communicated with the child, E.B.F., for a one-year period, but the majority justices disagreed.

Specifically, Justice Steven David wrote J.W.’s lack of communication was justified by two causes: her desire to shield E.B.F. from her drug addiction, and her year-long efforts toward recovery. Thus, the majority reversed the trial court’s ruling on the consent issue.

“We are sensitive to Mother’s predicament: returning to Child’s life too early during her addiction recovery process could have derailed both her own recovery and the child’s stability,” David wrote in the majority opinion joined by Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Justice Christopher Goff. “We, therefore, do not fault Mother for taking a reasonable amount of time to focus on recovery, even if that effort resulted in a temporary failure to communicate significantly with her child.”

Justices Geoffrey Slaughter and Mark Massa, however, found ample evidence to support the Greene Circuit Court’s finding that J.W. knew how to communicate with E.B.F., but chose not to.

The justices also unanimously denied transfer to 14 other cases last week. The full list of transfer actions can be read here.


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