Justices split in denying transfer to case where sexual misconduct convictions were overturned

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The Indiana Supreme Court bench in the Indiana Statehouse (IL file photo)

The Indiana Supreme Court denied transfer to 16 cases last week, splitting in the denial to one case involving a man whose convictions of sexual misconduct with a minor were overturned on double jeopardy grounds.

Chief Justice Loretta Rush and Justice Mark Massa voted to grant transfer in Matthew D. Englehardt v. State of Indiana, 22A-CR-1760.

In that case, the Court of Appeals of Indiana reversed a lower court’s decision and ruled Matthew Englehardt faced double jeopardy at trial.

Englehardt was charged with one count of Level 4 sexual misconduct with a minor and three counts of Level 5 sexual misconduct with a minor after his daughter accused him of touching her inappropriately and forcing her to touch him inappropriately.

Before trial in the Wells Circuit Court, the state filed a motion in limine seeking to prohibit Englehardt from presenting any evidence regarding “the character for truthfulness or untruthfulness of any witness or presenting any extrinsic evidence to prove specific instances of a witness’s conduct in order to attack or support the witness’s character for truthfulness[.]”

The trial court granted the motion.

The state objected to testimony from a witness that worked for the Indiana Department of Child Services on the ground that it violated the motion in limine and moved for a mistrial.

The court granted the motion, finding in part that the jury may put too much emphasis on the witness having worked for DCS.

A new trial began in May 2022, and a jury found Englehardt guilty as charged. He was sentenced to 10 years and ordered to register as a sex offender for life.

On appeal, Englehardt argued there was no manifest necessity for the court to declare a mistrial and that his subsequent trial subjected him to procedural double jeopardy.

A majority of the Court of Appeals panel agreed.

“We agree with Englehardt that that testimony is ‘vague’ and does not imply that M.V.1 is dishonest or would falsely accuse her father of inappropriate actions,” the opinion says. “Rather, the implication from that testimony is that she handled bathing the children because she was familiar with children as a result of her job with DCS.”

The Court of Appeals said there was nothing egregious about the testimony, “let alone anything so egregious as to warrant a finding of manifest necessity.”

The justices granted transfer to only one case for the week ending Dec. 15, handing down their decision on Dec. 13 in Brent Taylor v. Allen County Board of Commissioners, et al., 23S-CT-378.

There, the high court ruled the Court of Appeals prematurely dismissed Brent Taylor’s appeal of the entry of judgment in favor of the Allen County public defenders he was suing and reversed the dismissal.

Taylor filed a pro se complaint in August 2021, where he alleged that his public defender, Gregory Fumarolo, “broke his legal contract and duty with (Taylor)” by preventing him from “presenting testimony of key witnesses that would have been allowed had he followed the proper pre-trial procedures, failed to investigate key witnesses, and failed to provide (Taylor) with compulsory process to obtain key witnesses, and failed to prepare an (sic) assist (Taylor) with the sentencing portion of the legal proceedings.”

The trial court dismissed Taylor’s action against the Board of Commissioners and granted judgment on the pleadings to the Public Defender’s Office and the individual public defenders.

He then appealed, filing his appellant’s brief and appendix on June 7, two days before the June 9 deadline.

The appellate clerk issued a Notice of Defect giving Taylor 20 days to submit corrected documents. But three days later, the Court of Appeals dismissed Taylor’s appeal with prejudice.

Taylor then sought transfer, which the Supreme Court granted in reversing the dismissal of his appeal.

The high court remanded for the Court of Appeals to resume jurisdiction over Taylor’s appeal.

The full list of transfer decisions is available online.

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