The Indiana Supreme Court recently reinstated a previously dismissed voluntary manslaughter charge against a defendant whose attorney-client privileged conversation was recorded at a police station during a break in law enforcement questioning. The conversation was then transcribed and distributed to government prosecutors. The defendant was accused of fatally shooting his wife in December 2012 at their Long Beach Home, according to reports on the incident by the Michigan City News-Dispatch and NWI.com.
The Indiana Supreme Court held that the prior dismissal of the voluntary manslaughter charges against the defendant due to misconduct by law enforcement was an “extreme remedy.” The Court also found that a trial court can determine which evidence is tainted by misconduct. The Court further held that trial delays during the appeal, as well as a request for a new judge, were attributable to the defendant. Accordingly, he was not entitled to a dismissal for lack of a speedy trial. A trial judge tossed the voluntary manslaughter charge in 2016 and an Indiana appeals court affirmed the ruling in 2017.
Statements made by the defendant during an initial interview were evidence that was suppressed because law enforcement officers continued to question the defendant even after he had invoked his right to an attorney. The defendant agreed to another interview only if the state would consider lowering the charges to manslaughter. During a break in questioning during the second interview, video cameras recorded the defendant’s privileged conversation with his attorney. The discussions included the sequence of events on the evening of the shooting, motive, possible charges, and possible defenses. Both law enforcement officers and government prosecutors viewed the video, which was later transcribed by a court reporter and handed over to the prosecutor’s office. The defendant did not learn about the eavesdropping by prosecutors and police until a year after it happened.
Supreme Court’s Decision
Indiana’s Supreme Court found no dispute that the state committed misconduct. Beyond the listened to and transcribed attorney-client privileged conversation, there was also evidence that one officer had another change his statement regarding a prior interaction with the defendant’s wife, and that the gun that was used in the shooting was tampered with. Nonetheless, the Court held that the state must be given the chance to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that some untainted and admissible evidence exists in the case. In other words, it must be given a chance to rebut the presumption of prejudice.