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Griffith v. State

Supreme Court of Indiana

June 2, 2015

PETER GRIFFITH, Appellant (Defendant below),
STATE OF INDIANA, Appellee (Plaintiff below)

Appeal from the Madison Circuit Court, No. 48C03-1111-FC-2033. The Honorable Thomas Newman Jr., Judge. On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 48A02-1310-CR-909.

ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT: John T. Wilson, Anderson, Indiana.

ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE: Gregory F. Zoeller, Attorney General of Indiana; George P. Sherman, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, Indiana.

David, Justice. Rush, C.J., Dickson, Rucker, and Massa, J.J., concur.


David, Justice.

Peter Griffith was convicted of Class C felony battery. This conviction arose out of a physical altercation that occurred between Griffith and his son-in-law, Darren Wiles (Darren). During that altercation, Griffith stabbed Darren in the back one time with a knife. The eyewitnesses agreed that Griffith attacked Darren, and Darren had not provoked the attack. After the State presented its case at trial, Griffith expressed his intent to call two witnesses. The defense asserted that this proposed testimony would be admitted for the purpose of impeaching Darren's testimony that he had not been the aggressor and had not hit Griffith with a two by four. The trial court allowed the two witnesses to testify outside the presence of the jury. Both testified that after the altercation occurred Darren had told each witness individually that he had hit Griffith with a two by four before Griffith stabbed him. The State objected to the admission of that testimony as hearsay and on the grounds that it could not be admitted for impeachment without Darren first having the opportunity to explain or deny the alleged statements. While it is unclear whether the trial court specifically ruled on the offered testimony or the State's objection, the defense never attempted to call either witness after the jury returned and the trial resumed.

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At the time of Griffith's trial, Indiana Rule of Evidence 613(b) provided in pertinent part that " [e]xtrinsic evidence of a prior inconsistent statement by a witness is not admissible unless the witness is afforded an opportunity to explain or deny the same and the opposite party is afforded an opportunity to interrogate the witness thereon, or the interests of justice otherwise require." Ind. Evid. Rule 613(b) (2012).[1] We accept transfer in this case to

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address the application of Rule 613(b). Considering that Indiana Evidence Rule 613(b) uses the same language as Federal Evidence Rule 613(b),[2] we embrace the interpretation of Rule 613(b) as utilized by multiple federal jurisdictions. Under that interpretation, Rule 613(b) does not compel a specific sequence for the admission of extrinsic evidence of a prior inconsistent statement. Rather, it is within the trial court's discretion to admit extrinsic evidence to impeach a prior inconsistent statement before or after the witness is given the opportunity to explain or deny the alleged statement. However, the preferred method is still to confront the witness with the alleged statement before seeking to admit extrinsic evidence impeaching that statement. Regardless of the sequence in which extrinsic evidence is admitted, the witness must be given the opportunity to admit or deny the prior statement. Here, we conclude that the trial court properly exercised its discretion in excluding Griffith's proposed extrinsic evidence and affirm Griffith's conviction and sentence.

Facts and Procedural History

Peter Griffith lived at Lot 6 of the Irondale mobile home park in Anderson, Indiana. Griffith's daughter, Summer Wiles (Summer), and son-in-law, Darren Wiles (Darren), also lived in Irondale at Lot 17. Living with Summer and Darren was Summer's mother, Loretta, Darren's mother, and Darren and Summer's two young children. On the night of October 18, 2011, tensions were running high at Lot 17, and a dispute broke out between Loretta and Darren's mother. Darren and Summer were escorting Loretta out of the trailer when they saw Griffith outside, stumbling toward Lot 17 and yelling. Summer specifically recalled Griffith repeatedly yelling, " You hurt my baby girl." (Tr. at 262.) Griffith admitted to having had several drinks that night, and based upon Griffith's demeanor, witnesses believed that he was drunk.

As the defendant came closer to Lot 17, Darren told Griffith to go home and that he did not want to fight him. Despite this, Griffith continued to approach Darren, and a struggle quickly ensued between the two men. At some point, either right before or during this altercation, Griffith pulled a knife. As the fight continued, Darren fell to the ground, and Griffith stabbed him in the back. Darren then picked up a wooden stake and was swinging it to keep Griffith back. Shortly thereafter, the fight broke up, and Loretta quickly helped Griffith leave the scene. Darren then realized the extent of his injury and that he was bleeding profusely.

Multiple patrolmen from the Anderson police department arrived at the scene to investigate a reported stabbing. Officer Donavon Baysinger found Darren at Lot 17 with his shirt off and with blood streaming down his side. Paramedics were called, and Darren was taken to St. Vincent's Regional Hospital for treatment. At some point, Griffith was also taken to St. Vincent's for his injuries, and police were able to interview him at the hospital. Griffith told police that Darren had hit him

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with a two by four. Police also canvased the area where the altercation occurred, interviewed potential witnesses, and investigated the scene. Although a two by four was never recovered, police did collect four smaller wooden stakes in the yard of Lot 17. A knife was also collected from Griffith. No blood or blood spatter evidence was recovered, likely due to the rain that began late that night.

Griffith was ultimately charged with one count of Class C felony battery by means of a deadly weapon.[3] At trial, the only testifying eyewitnesses were a neighbor and Summer, and both testified that Griffith was the initial aggressor. However, Griffith claimed that Darren initiated the argument by threatening Griffith's son and that Darren had picked up a two by four ...

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