COA has ‘little doubt’ state violated discovery rule in child molesting case

Bungled communications by law enforcement officials over whether a polygraph was admissible in court has resulted in the Court of Appeals of Indiana affirming the exclusion of the evidence against a defendant in a child molestation case and sanctions against the state.

Bryan Lyons was interviewed by the Bedford Police Department after his 5-year-old daughter accused him of sexual abuse. The parties stipulated that his polygraph results would be admissible at trial.

However, after Lyons told the police he had mental health issues and had been seeing “spiritual shadows” on the wall that spoke to him, law enforcement officials determined the defendant was not a suitable candidate for an evidentiary polygraph. They changed to a non-stipulatory, investigatory polygraph, which is inadmissible in court.

When the sergeant conducting the polygraph returned to the interview room, he forgot to change the stipulated notation to non-stipulated in his handwritten notes. The sergeant also conducted a post-polygraph interview during which Lyons made incriminating statements.

Despite being told not to, the stipulation was delivered to the Lawrence County prosecutor.

Subsequently, Lyons was charged with Level 1 felony child molesting.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the polygraph on the basis that he had not been advised of his right to counsel before signing the stipulation. At the hearing on the motion, law enforcement officials testified but, because they were not asked the question directly, did not reveal the polygraph had been change to non-stipulated.

After the Lawrence Superior Court denied the motion, the court eventually scheduled a five-day trial. On the day of jury selection, the defendant filed a motion for continuance because it had just learned of the non-stipulation designation.

Ultimately, the trial court concluded the state of Indiana had violated Lyons’ rights by failing to disclose “materially exculpatory evidence,” and had “materially breached” Indiana Trial Rule 37(B)(2) by not disclosing in a timely manner that the polygraph had been changed to non-stipulated. The court then excluded all evidence acquired by the sergeant, including the post-polygraph interview.

The state filed an interlocutory appeal, arguing it was a case of “misfeasance not malfeasance” because the prosecutor immediately informed Lyons upon learning the polygraph was non-stipulated. Further, the state contended, the exclusion of the defendant’s post-polygraph statements was an unjust sanction.

In State of Indiana v. Bryan Lyons, 21A-CR-2187, the Court of Appeals affirmed.

The appellate panel noted it had “little doubt” that a discovery violation took place because there were opportunities pretrial for the disclosure that the polygraph was non-stipulated.

“We are unconvinced by the State’s argument that the discovery violation resulted in no significant prejudice to Lyons’s defense because the argument fails to acknowledge the broader implications that pretrial discovery violations may have on a case,” Chief Judge Cale Bradford wrote. “The state’s argument focuses solely on the fact that the disclosure, however, late, revealed that damaging polygraph results were no longer admissible.

“… It is easy to imagine a scenario in which Lyons entered into a plea agreement with the State before ever finding out that the polygraph results would not have been admissible in a trial,” Bradford concluded.

The case was remanded for further proceedings.

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