COA: Admission of interview video harmless in firearm conviction

The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the firearm conviction and sentence of a man when it found the admission of a nearly incomprehensible interview video was, at most, harmless in his case.   

In February 2017, Evansville Police Detective Peter DeYoung went to an apartment to contact Damon Maffett, who refused to comply when asked to step out of the apartment and further stated he would “blast” a K-9 unit if DeYoung entered. After an hour, Maffett surrendered.

Prior to entry, Maffett informed DeYoung no guns were in the apartment. With a search warrant, police found a loaded Mossberg shotgun under the mattress and two types of handgun ammunition elsewhere in the apartment.

Maffett was subsequently charged with Level 4 felony unlawful possession of firearm by a serious violent felon. Prior to trial, Maffett filed a motion in limine objecting to the use of video from an interview DeYoung conducted with Maffett because it included references to both drug-dealing activity and possession of handgun ammunition. The state agreed that most of the interview was prejudicial and redacted all but approximately three minutes.

Regardless, a jury found Maffett guilty of possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon and imposed a 10-year sentence.

On appeal, Maffett argued the trial court erred when it admitted the recorded video and police testimony about the presence of handgun ammunition in the apartment. Specifically, Maffett contended the admission violated Evidence Rule 404 and that it impugned his character with an inference of prior bad acts.

The appellate court found there was sufficient evidence to infer that Maffett was aware the shotgun was in the apartment and he had the capability to use the weapon. It further concluded that the state produced substantial independent evidence Maffett constructively possessed the shotgun.

“In light of the evidence in the record, the admission of a nearly incomprehensible video interview was harmless,” Judge Melissa May wrote for the court.

Maffett also argued that testimony admitted about ammunition found in the apartment was not relevant and was more prejudicial than probative. However, the appellate court noted that it need not determine whether the evidence of the ammunition should have been admitted. Rather, it found the admission harmless based on the satisfactory independent evidence presented on record to establish evidence of Maffett’s guilt.

“… (T)he State presented evidence Maffett was in the apartment with the shotgun, lived in the apartment, cleaned the shotgun, and threatened to shoot the K-9 unit,” May wrote. “Any prejudice inferred from the presence of ammunition for which there was not a gun was slight as neither the video nor Detective DeYoung’s statements lingered on that point.”

Finally, the appellate court found that based on his significant criminal history, which included several violent crime convictions, Maffett’s sentence was not inappropriate based on his character.

Therefore the appellate court affirmed Maffett’s convictions in Damon L. Maffett v. State of Indiana, 82A04-1711-CR-2679.

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