Eugene C. Hollander
Jeffrey A. Modisett
Carol A. Nemeth
Special Assistant to the Office of the State Public Defender
Indianapolis, IN Attorneys for Appellee
Attorney General of Indiana
Deputy Attorney General
Eugene C. Hollander
Jeffrey A. Modisett
Carol A. Nemeth
MICHAEL W. CHARLTON,
Appellant (Defendant below),
STATE OF INDIANA,
Appellee (Plaintiff below).
) Supreme Court No.
On August 28, 1995, defendant Michael Charlton was charged with killing his
girlfriend, Deborah Carpenter. Defendant appeals his conviction of MurderSee footnote
of sixty years. We affirm both.
This Court has jurisdiction over this direct appeal because the longest single sentence
exceeds fifty years. Ind. Const. art. 7, § 4; Ind.Appellate Rule 4(A)(7).
Defendant and the victim lived together for approximately two and one-half years.
On August 21, 1995, the victim called defendant at work and told him that because they
were having problems she had placed all of his belongings on the front porch for him to pick
up later. She also advised him that she was planning to secure a protective order against him
that day. Defendant did pick up his possessions and later that evening, he and the victim
met at a neutral location to talk about their separation.
On August 22, 1995, the victim had her family over for dinner and spoke to defendant over the phone on at least one occasion. The victim's son left around 9 pm and she
took her daughter and grandson home around 11:30 pm.
Additional facts will be provided as necessary.
Defendant contends that the trial court committed reversible error by denying his
proposed jury instruction on the lesser included offense of reckless homicide.See footnote
We set forth
in Wright v. State, 658 N.E.2d 563 (Ind. 1995), the proper analysis to determine when a trial
court should, upon request, instruct the jury on a lesser included offense of the crime
charged. Three steps are involved: (1) a determination of whether the lesser included
offense is inherently included in the crime charged; if not, (2) a determination of whether
the lesser included offense is factually included in the crime charged; and, if either, (3) a
determination of whether a serious evidentiary dispute existed whereby the jury could
conclude the lesser offense was committed but not the greater. Id. at 566-67. If the third
step is reached and answered in the affirmative, the requested instruction should be given.
When the trial court has made a finding on the existence or lack of a serious evidentiary dispute, our standard of review is abuse of discretion. See Champlain v. State, 681 N.E.2d 696, 700 (Ind. 1997). However, if the trial court makes no ruling with respect to whether a serious evidentiary dispute exists, Wright implicitly requires the reviewing
court to make this determination de novo based on its own review of the evidence. Champlain, 681 N.E.2d at 700. In this case, the trial court simply refused the defendant's tendered Reckless Homicide instruction and made no finding regarding whether a serious
evidentiary dispute existed.See footnote
Additionally, defendant's tendered instruction contained no
explanation as to why a serious evidentiary dispute existed, nor does defendant direct us to
the record where he explained to the trial court the existence of such a dispute. [W]hen the
court rejects tendered instructions on lesser included offenses on their merits, but the record
provides neither a finding that there is no serious evidentiary dispute nor a specific claim
from the defendant as to the nature of that dispute, the standard of review is an abuse of
discretion. Thomas Brown v. State, No. 82S00-9609-CR-603, slip op. at 16 (Ind. Dec. 3,
1998). We review this case accordingly.
The defendant was charged with Murder. Indiana's Murder statute provides in
relevant part that [a] person who . . . knowingly or intentionally kills another human being
. . . commits Murder, a felony. Ind. Code § 35-42-1-1 (1993). Indiana's Reckless Homicide statute provides that [a] person who recklessly kills another human being commits
reckless homicide, a Class C felony. Ind. Code § 35-42-1-1 (1993). A comparison of these
two statutes indicates that Reckless Homicide is an inherently lesser included offense of
Murder; the only distinguishing factor between Reckless Homicide and Murder is the lesser
culpability. Wright, 658 N.E.2d at 567. See Horan v. State, 682 N.E.2d 502, 507 (Ind.
The final step of the Wright analysis requires the court to determine whether a
serious evidentiary dispute existed warranting a Reckless Homicide instruction. Ind. Code
§ 35-41-2-2(c) (1993) provides that [a] person engages in conduct 'recklessly' if he
engages in the conduct in plain, conscious, and unjustifiable disregard of harm that might
result and the disregard involves a substantial deviation from acceptable standards of conduct. In support of his position, defendant makes the following argument:
The Defendant argues that the evidence presented at trial raised a serious evidentiary dispute regarding the element of intent, and the trial Court committed reversible error by not instructing the jury regarding Reckless Homicide. The Defendant committed the shooting. He reported the shooting. He admitted to the shooting. The Defendant testified during the trial regarding the fact that the gun accidentally fired while the parties were struggling.
Br. of Def.-Appellant at 15-16. While these facts do call into question defendant's intent, they present absolutely no evidence of reckless conduct _ they present evidence of an
accident or, at most, negligence. Defendant has not presented or referred us to any evidence
showing that his conduct was reckless, much less showing that there was a serious evidentiary dispute over whether his conduct was reckless.
On the other hand, the evidence presented by the State all supported its contention
that defendant knowingly or intentionally killed the victim:
1. On the morning of August 22, 1995, the defendant told a co-worker
that he was going to kill the victim and himself.
2. The defendant testified that the victim telephoned him at his parents' house around 4 am on August 23, 1995, and invited him to come over. The defendant claimed that he walked to the victim's house. However, the victim's son testified that while he was at work, the defendant drove by around 4:30 am to inquire whether his sister was still at the victim's house. Additionally, one of the victim's neighbors testified that on August 23, 1995, he noticed defendant's truck parked on the street at 4:30 am and that the truck was still there when he left for work around 5:45 am.
3. The defendant never called for emergency help and did not turn himself in to authorities until several hours after the shooting.
Defendant contends that the trial court erred in admitting evidence that the victim
had attempted to obtain a protective order against the defendant. We disagree.
Indiana Evidence Rule 404(b) provides that [e]vidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in confor
mity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for other purposes, such as proof of motive,
intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or accident . . . When
a defendant objects to the admission of evidence on the grounds that it would violate Rule
404(b), the following test is applied: (1) the court must determine that the evidence of other
crimes, wrongs, or acts is relevant to a matter at issue other than the defendant's propensity
to commit the charged act; and (2) the court must balance the probative value of the evidence against its prejudicial effect pursuant to Rule 403.See footnote
Thompson v. State, 690 N.E.2d
224, 233 (Ind. 1997). See Hicks v. State, 690 N.E.2d 215, 221 (Ind. 1997); Heavrin v. State,
675 N.E.2d 1075, 1083 (Ind. 1996), reh'g denied; Taylor v. State, 659 N.E.2d 535, 543 (Ind.
1995); Hardin v. State, 611 N.E.2d 123, 128-29 (Ind. 1993). The well established rationale
behind Evidence Rule 404(b) is that the jury is precluded from making the 'forbidden
inference' that the defendant had a criminal propensity and therefore engaged in the charged
conduct. Thompson, 690 N.E.2d at 233 (citing Hardin, 611 N.E.2d at 129).
Two witnesses _ the victim's daughter and Lee Ann Riesenbeck, a resource advocate for the local counsel on domestic abuse _ testified that two days before the murder, the victim requested that a protective order be issued against the defendant. Defendant objected
to the testimony of both of these witnesses.See footnote
The victim's daughter testified that the
[victim] wanted to get a Protective Order against [the defendant] _ because he had been
harassing her_ and threatening to _ threaten her. Riesenbeck testified that when the
victim came to her office to file an application for a protective order, she was crying,
shaking, scared and was so upset that she could not fill the forms out.See footnote
We agree with the State that testimony regarding the protective order was admitted to show defendant's motive for committing the murder and not to create an inference that defendant acted in conformity with his prior bad acts. See Bacher v. State, 686 N.E.2d 791, 799 (Ind. 1997) (motive is relevant to proof of a crime and evidence of jealousy and overprotectiveness can be a motive for murder); Haggenjos v. State, 441 N.E.2d 430, 431 (Ind. 1982) (defendant's jealous behavior after wife filed for divorce was admissible as evidence of motive for killing). Prior actions to show motive, intent, or other proper purposes are admissible. Hicks, 690 N.E.2d at 219; Bacher, 686 N.E.2d at 799. There have been numerous cases in which we have held proper the admission of evidence showing the relationship that existed between the defendant and the victim. See, e.g., Hicks, 690 N.E.2d at 222 (citing Ross v. State, 676 N.E.2d 339, 346 (Ind. 1996); Elliott v. State, 630 N.E.2d
202, 204 (Ind. 1994); Price v. State, 619 N.E.2d 582, 584 (Ind. 1993)). See also Campbell
v. State, 622 N.E.2d 495, 500 (Ind. 1993). The evidence relating to the protective order was
for the purpose of proving defendant's motive.
We next proceed to determine whether, under the second prong of the 404(b) test, the probative value of the evidence is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice. In undertaking such a review, we use an abuse of discretion standard. Hicks, 690 N.E.2d at 223 (citing Mayberry v. State, 670 N.E.2d 1262, 1268 (Ind. 1996), reh'g denied). See Johnson v. State, 655 N.E.2d 502, 505 (Ind. 1995). We do not find that any prejudicial impact from the evidence relating to the Protective Order substantially outweighed its probative value. We provide two reasons for our determination.
First, as we stated supra, the testimony was relevant to show the hostile relationship that existed between defendant and the victim in order to prove motive for the murder. This evidence was even more significant in light of the fact that the protective order was sought just two days prior to the murder. Second, this evidence was admitted only after the State presented the testimony of two of defendant's co-workers whose testimony was far more damaging than the protective order evidence. Pam Stuthers, testified that she overheard defendant's conversation with another co-worker. Stuthers heard defendant say, [t]hat if he'd been there he'd have killed her. Stuthers also commented that the defendant was talking about committing suicide. The other co-worker, William Gregory, testified that after
defendant received a phone call at work from the victim informing him that his belongings
were outside on the front porch, the defendant got mad and came back in the kitchen and
started throwing stuff around, cussing and swearing. The co-worker also testified that while
working the next day (the morning prior to the murder), the defendant told him [t]hat he
was going to kill her and kill hisself [sic] and that [h]e was going to take her down. In
light of this other damaging evidence, we find no error in the admission of protective order
Defendant complains that the prosecutor engaged in misconduct in closing argument in several respects: (i) that the prosecutor implied that he had superior knowledge to the jury concerning the facts in the case; (ii) that the prosecutor suggested that the defendant controlled, manipulated or dominated the victim even though such evidence was never presented at trial; (iii) that the prosecutor insinuated that the State somehow controlled the jury selection process; and (iv) that the prosecutor referred to defendant's confession to the police even though such statements were never disclosed to the jury. Finally, defendant briefly identifies some additional arguments made by the prosecutor which he characterizes
as being filled with hyperbole and innuendo. Defendant neither objected at trial nor
sought an admonishment. Ordinarily, a failure to object would cause the issue to be waived.
See Isaacs v. State, 673 N.E.2d 757, 763 (Ind. 1996). Consequently, defendant argues that
the errors were fundamental or, in the alternative, that counsel's failure to object constituted
ineffective assistance of counsel.
Fundamental error is a substantial blatant violation of basic principles rendering the
trial unfair to the defendant and, thereby, depriving the defendant of fundamental due
process. Borders v. State, 688 N.E.2d 874, 882 (Ind. 1997). (citations omitted). See
Wrinkles v. State, 690 N.E.2d 1156, 1171 (Ind. 1997) (claim of fundamental error is not
viable absent a showing of grave peril and the possible effect on the jury's decision). The
error must be so prejudicial to the rights of a defendant as to make a fair trial impossible.
Id. (citations omitted). For prosecutorial misconduct to be fundamental error, it must be
demonstrated that the prosecutor's conduct 'subjected the defendant to grave peril and had
a probable persuasive effect on the jury's decision.' Carter v. State, 686 N.E.2d 1254,
1262 (Ind. 1997) (quoting Isaacs, 673 N.E.2d at 763). See Borders, 688 N.E.2d at 879. The
gravity of peril turns on the probable persuasive effect of the misconduct on the jury's
decision, not on the degree of impropriety of the conduct. Borders, 688 N.E.2d at 879
(citing Kent v. State, 675 N.E.2d 332, 335 (Ind. 1996)) (citations omitted)).
While we agree with defendant that some of the prosecutor's statements complained
of may have pushed the bounds of zealous advocacy, we find nothing about the statements
to be so egregious as to rise to fundamental error. Additionally, the failure to object could
well have been a strategic decision by counsel. See Bannowsky v. State, 677 N.E.2d 1032,
1035 (Ind. 1997) (counsel's failure to object to prosecutor's improper voir dire questions
was consistent with a reasonable choice of defense tactics and strategy which was the
desire to avoid focussing the juror's attention upon the prosecutor's questions). Judicial
scrutiny of counsel's performance is highly deferential; we eschew second-guessing the
propriety of trial counsel's tactics. Canaan v. State, 683 N.E.2d 227, 231 (Ind. 1997). See
Potter v. State, 684 N.E.2d 1127, 1133 (Ind. 1997) (A reviewing court must grant the trial
attorney significant deference in choosing a strategy which, at the time and under the
circumstances, he or she deems best.). Strategic decisions do not amount to ineffective
assistance of counsel. See Potter, 684 N.E.2d at 1133 (failure to object is not ineffective
assistance of counsel if counsel's failure to object was the result of trial strategy); Smith
v. State, 689 N.E.2d 1238, 1244 (Ind. 1997) (quoting Garrett v. State, 602 N.E.2d 139, 142
(Ind. 1992)) (Tactical choices by trial counsel do not establish ineffective assistance of
counsel even though such choices may be subject to criticism or the choice ultimately
proves detrimental to the defendant.). We hold that the prosecutor's comments during
closing argument did not constitute fundamental error and that trial counsel was not ineffective for failing to object thereto.
The trial court enhanced defendant's sentence from the presumptive sentence of fifty-
five (55) years, Ind. Code § 35-50-2-3 (Supp. 1995), to sixty (60) years. The trial court has
authority to enhance a presumptive sentence up 10 years due to aggravating circumstances
or reduce the presumptive sentence by as many as 10 years for mitigating circumstances.
Ind. Code § 35-50-2-3 (Supp. 1995). When enhancing a sentence, a trial court must: (1)
identify significant aggravating and mitigating circumstances; (2) state the specific reasons
why each circumstance is aggravating or mitigating; and (3) evaluate and balance the
mitigating against the aggravating circumstances to determine if the mitigating offset the
aggravating circumstances. Mitchem v. State, 685 N.E.2d 671, 678 (Ind. 1997) (citing Jones
v. State, 675 N.E.2d 1084, 1086 (Ind. 1996)).
SHEPARD, C.J., and DICKSON, SELBY, and BOEHM, JJ., concur.
Prior to commencement of trial this date, counsel met in chambers with this Judge
and State of Indiana tendered no written instructions. Defendant, by counsel,
submitted three (3) written final instructions. State of Indiana objects to the reading
of Defendant's instructions, and Court indicates none of Defendant's instructions will
be read to the jury. Court further indicates Court's final instructions numbered one
(1) through seventeen (17) will be given except for Court's final instruction
numbered eleven (11). Further, Courts final instruction numbered two (2) is given as
(R. at 71.)
Although relevant, evidence may be excluded if its probative value is substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, confusion of the issues, or misleading the jury, or by considerations of undue delay, or needless presentation of cumulative evidence.
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