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Schermerhorn v. State

Court of Appeals of Indiana

September 20, 2016

Christina Schermerhorn, Appellant-Defendant,
State of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.

         Appeal from the Marion Superior Court. The Honorable Christina R. Klineman, Judge. Cause No. 49G17-1311-FD-73120

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Valerie K. Boots Marion County Public Defender Agency Indianapolis, Indiana

          ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE Gregory F. Zoeller Attorney General of Indiana Justin F. Roebel Deputy Attorney General Indianapolis, Indiana


         Statement of the Case

         [¶1] Christina Schermerhorn appeals her convictions of criminal recklessness, a Class A misdemeanor, [1] and domestic battery, a Class A misdemeanor.[2] We affirm.


         [¶2] Schermerhorn raises two issues, which we restate as:

I. Whether the trial court erred in refusing to admit Schermerhorn's proposed evidence; and
II. Whether the trial court abused its discretion in the course of instructing the jury.

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] Schermerhorn and her husband, Stanley, lived with their three young children in Marion County. On the morning of November 10, 2013, Stanley woke up because the children were crying. He found Schermerhorn doing the dishes. She appeared to be intoxicated, but when Stanley asked her about it, she denied drinking. Next, Stanley found a two-thirds empty bottle of vodka in the diaper box. Stanley showed it to Schermerhorn, and an argument ensued.

         [¶4] As Stanley poured out the bottle in the sink, Schermerhorn hit him in the back of the head with her fist. He turned around, and Schermerhorn tried to hit him several more times. Next, she picked up a knife and slashed him on the left arm. Schermerhorn dropped the knife, ran into the bathroom, and locked the door.

         [¶5] The cut on Stanley's arm bled profusely. He went to the bathroom door to ask for help, but Schermerhorn cursed at him and refused to come out. Next, he called his mother, who called his sister-in-law to come look after the children. Stanley drove to the hospital after his sister-in-law arrived, and hospital staff reported his injury to the police.

         [¶6] Officers were dispatched to the house to investigate the report. They arrived at 9:30 a.m., and Schermerhorn answered the door and allowed them to enter. Stanley's sister-in-law was not present. Schermerhorn was alone with the children and appeared to the officers to be intoxicated, exhibiting slurred speech and unsteady balance. In the kitchen, officers found blood on a knife and on the floor.

         [¶7] One of the officers went to the hospital to interview Stanley, where he was being treated for a one to two inch long cut on his left arm. The officer returned to the house, and Schermerhorn was placed in custody. Later, the State charged Schermerhorn with criminal recklessness, a Class D felony; two counts of domestic battery, one as a Class D felony and the other as a Class A misdemeanor; and two counts of battery, one as a Class D felony and the other as a Class A misdemeanor.

         [¶8] Prior to trial, Schermerhorn asserted a defense under Indiana Code section 35-41-3-11 (1997), known as the "effects of battery statute." Schermerhorn also filed a notice of intent to offer evidence of alleged prior misconduct by Stanley, including: (1) many instances of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse of her, (2) an incident of physical abuse of his teenage son from a prior relationship, and (3) use of controlled substances. The State filed a response. After a hearing, the court determined Schermerhorn was entitled to introduce evidence pertaining to Stanley's alleged physical abuse of her on the night before the incident in question but rejected all of her other proposed evidence. The court later reconsidered its decision and ruled that Schermerhorn could present evidence as to any prior incidents of Stanley's alleged abuse against her, but Schermerhorn could not present to the jury evidence of Stanley's alleged physical abuse of his son or Stanley's alleged use of controlled substances.

         [¶9] At trial, Stanley testified as described above. By contrast, Schermerhorn testified that she was under the influence of alcohol and prescription medication that morning, and, as a result, she could not remember anything that happened after Stanley asked her if she had been drinking. Schermerhorn described for the jury several prior occasions when Stanley had physically, sexually, and emotionally abused her, including verbal and physical abuse on the night of November 9, 2013.

         [¶10] Outside the presence of the jury, Schermerhorn made an offer of proof as to an audio recording. According to Schermerhorn, who described the events presented in the recording as it played for the trial court, the recording captured Stanley choking his teenage son in her presence in August 2011. The trial court did not allow Schermerhorn to present that evidence to the jury. The jury determined Schermerhorn was guilty of felony criminal recklessness, misdemeanor domestic battery, and misdemeanor battery, but not guilty of felony domestic battery and felony battery.

         [¶11] The court imposed alternative misdemeanor sentencing for the criminal recklessness charge. In addition, the court dismissed the Class A misdemeanor battery verdict. As a result, the court entered a judgment of conviction and sentence for Class A misdemeanor criminal recklessness and Class A misdemeanor domestic battery. This appeal followed.

         Discussion and Decision

         A. Schermerhorn's Recording

         [¶12] Schermerhorn argues the trial court should have allowed her to present to the jury the August 2011 audio recording of Stanley choking his teenage son in her presence, along with her testimony about the incident. She further contends the court's error deprived her of her right to present a defense under the federal and state constitutions. The State responds that Schermerhorn's evidence was inadmissible under Indiana's Rules of Evidence and, as a result, her constitutional rights were not violated.

         [¶13] In general, a trial court has broad discretion in ruling on the admissibility of evidence and we will disturb its rulings only where it is shown that the court abused its discretion. Turner v. State, 953 N.E.2d 1039, 1045 (Ind. 2011). Where, as here, an evidentiary claim raises constitutional issues, our standard of ...

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