Author Archives: Richard A. Cook

The Floor for the Value of a Human Life is Flying High

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 You have a wrongful death claim and need an indisputable source of information to determine the minimum value of a human life.  Wouldn’t it be nice if the federal government published minimum values for the loss of a human life? Well, they have! The U.S. Defense Department has made a conscious decision on this very disputed issue of value.  

The federal government has determined that the minimum value attributable to the loss of one life is $250,000,000 (a quarter of a billion dollars).  How can this be? Where can the supporting information be reviewed?  Well, the F-22 Raptor costs approximately $250 million per jet, replacing the F-15 Eagle which costs $65 million each.

The federal government installs pilot ejector systems on every F-22 Raptor Jet fighter. The government does this to protect the pilot, not the plane.  In order to  save the life of a pilot of a Raptor F-22, the government chooses to sacrifice our most expensive combat jet airplane to insure the pilot lives to fly another day.  The F-22 jet airplane costs $250,000,000 to manufacture.   In spite of this huge cost, the federal government has chosen to install an ejector system to save the pilot’s life even though the ejection of the pilot will result in the certain and immediate loss of a quarter of a billion dollar jet airplane.

How about that…  This analogy was raised some time ago by a trial lawyer by referencing the Eagle F-15.  Well the minimum value for the loss of a human life has just gone up… at least in the eyes of the federal government.

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Why Sorry is the Badest Word…

An expression of regret or an apology by a Defendant is nothing new when a case doesn’t settle and finally makes it to trial.  However, should this be allowed?  Why no! 

Defendants should be prohibited from expressing any apologies or statements of regret to the jury in connection with a civil case not seeking punitive damages. Whether one is sorry or not for injuring a person constitutes neither a defense, nor is it relevant to any issue concerning whether or not to grant compensatory damages. The sole purpose of making such a statement to a jury is to encourage them to return a reduced verdict because the Defendant is sorry about what happened and is really a good guy. General appeals to sympathy or prejudice on the part of a jury are inappropriate and should be prohibited by a trial court. The jury’s obligation is to render a verdict for just compensation, not to hear confessions or grant absolution.    Their function is not to forgive, it is to fairly compensate one for their injuries. Only God can forgive.

​Any references made to this effect should not be permitted as they are calculated to mislead and confuse the jury and would clearly be immaterial and irrelevant to any issue involving either liability or damages. See Rules of Evidence 402 and 403. See generally, King’s Indiana Billiard Co. v. Winters, 123 Ind. App. 110, 127, 106 N.E.2d 713, 721 (1952).  So cut this tactic off with a pretrial motion in limine. Otherwise you may be sorry you didn’t.

Does an Oath Inoculate a Medical Witness from Being Biased in Favor of Other Healthcare Providers?

Oath

“Cross-examination is the greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of truth.” – John Henry Wigmore 

The existence of financial bias is a well established area of cross-examination when dealing with the credibility of witnesses and experts alike.  Indiana law is clear that the income of an expert derives from his/her work as an expert is highly relevant and goes directly to bias and prejudice. See Ind.R.Evid. 411, 616; Ind. Pattern Jury Instruction No. 1.09; Brown-Day v. Allstate Ins. Co., 915 N.E.2d 548, 551-52 (Ind. App. 2009), trans. denied; Pickett v. Kolb, 237 N.E.2d 105 (Ind. 1968); Yates v. Grider, (1969) Ind. App. 251 N.E. 2d 846; Kleinrichert v. State, 530 N.E.2d 321 (Ind. App. 1980). As the Indiana Supreme Court stated in Pickett, supra:

It has long been the law in all jurisdictions of which we are aware that a witness may be properly cross-examined with respect to his interest in the litigation in question. He may be cross-examined with reference to his motives, his feelings, friendly or unfriendly towards the parties or other witnesses involved, his employment by either of the parties or some third party, and a contractual relationship with reference to his interest in the litigation and any financial considerations that might have influenced him.

[P]roof of liability insurance in and of itself is not admissible, but such a principle may not be expanded to the extent that it serves as a means of excluding otherwise competent evidence which is relevant to the issues involved in the trial. We do not think that a trial court may arbitrarily exclude otherwise competent and relevant evidence merely on the ground that it will reveal an insurance carrier is involved.

In this case, as previously stated, if a party sees fit to present a witness on his behalf, the opposing party has a right to cross-examine that witness with reference to all his interests in the litigation, including who is compensating him or giving him anything of value which resulted in his being a witness or participating actively in the litigation.

237 N.E.2d at 107-08. The Indiana Supreme Court’s rules trump any statute when the provisions conflict.  In re Termination of the Parent-Child Relationship of B.H., 2013 Ind. App. LEXIS 256 (Ind. Ct. App. May 30, 2013).  The principle that this rule of law survived the adoption of the Indiana Rules of Evidence was confirmed in Brown-Day, 915 N.E.2d at 551-52.  Indiana Rule of Evidence 411 explicitly excepts evidence of bias from the restriction on presenting evidence of insurance.  This Rule provides:

Rule 411. Liability Insurance

Evidence that a person was or was not insured against liability is not admissible to prove whether the person acted negligently or otherwise wrongfully. But the court may admit this evidence for another purpose, such as proving a witness’s bias or prejudice or proving agency, ownership, or control.  [Emphasis Added].

Indiana Rule of Evidence 616 recognizes that witnesses are subject to cross examination on topics addressing bias. This Rule provides:

Rule 616. Witness’s Bias

Evidence that a witness has a bias, prejudice, or interest for or against any party may be used to attack the credibility of the witness. [Emphasis Added].

Evidence that a witness has a bias, prejudice, or interest for or against any party may be used to attack the credibility of the witness.  The fact that embraces the topic of the Patient Compensation Fund should not prevent such inquiries.  By analogy inquiries regarding a juror’s interest in an insurance company is a valid line of inquiry. In the matter of Beyer v. Safron, 84 Ind. App. 512, 151 N.E. 620 (1926), the court stated:

[L]itigants are entitled to a trial by a thoroughly impartial jury, and to that end have a right to make such preliminary inquiries of the jurors as may seem reasonably necessary to show them to be impartial and disinterested. It is a matter of common knowledge that there are numerous companies engaged in such insurance, and that many of the citizens of the state are stockholders in one or more of them. Such citizens may be called as jurors, and if at such time they are such stockholders, or otherwise interested in any of such companies, their pecuniary interest might disqualify them to sit as jurors.

Id. at 621.

Panel members should be able to be questioned regarding their financial interest in the outcome of a medical malpractice case since each of them our participants in the patient compensation fund and are financially impacted by any monies awarded from the fund.  The collective impact of favorable plaintiff’s verdicts is not trivial and has a financial impact on panel members.  The prohibition on mentioning insurance is not absolute.  Under Rule of Evidence 411, evidence that a witness was insured against liability is admissible to prove their “bias” or “prejudice”.    While recognizing all of these arguments exist, the Court of Appeals here in Indiana has refused to overturn a trial court’s discretionary decision to exclude such evidence pursuant to Indiana Rule of Evidence 403.  This rule leans in favor of admitting such evidence (unlike Rule 608 which deals with evidence of criminal convictions).  The attendant prejudice must substantially outweigh the probative value.   A trial court’s decision on this issue may only be reversed for an abuse of that discretion to n deciding this issue. In Tucker v. Harrison, 973 N.E.2d 46 (Ind. App. 2012) upheld the trial court’s decision to exclude such evidence noting:

Any specific bias on the part of the three members of the medical review panel in this case would certainly be relevant. See Ind. Evidence Rule 616 (“For the purpose of attacking the credibility of a witness, evidence of bias … of the witness for or against any party to the case is admissible.”). Each member of the review panel signed the required oath. Dr. Michelle Murphy, one of the review panel members, testified at trial that she signed the oath, that she took the oath seriously, and that she had no bias for either Tucker or Dr. Harrison when she considered the evidence and gave her opinion. (citations omitted). Dr. Margaret Miser, also a member of the review panel, also testified that she took the oath, honored it, and complied with it in her work on the review panel. [Emphasis Added].

Id. at 55.  Alas, if an oath guaranteed truth there would be no need for cross-examination or even a trial for that matter.  Bias can occur on an unconscious level and is not cured by being placed under oath.  If not, why is it so difficult to get local doctors to assist and go on the record in medical malpractice case against another doctor?      The Court of Appeals went on to observe:

[The Plaintiff’s] proffered evidence merely speculates through Dr. McLaughlin’s expected testimony that every doctor in Indiana—all of whom are required by law to participate in the Patient’s Compensation Fund and to serve as review panel members-have such an interest in limiting their financial exposure by limiting payouts from the Patient’s Compensation Fund that they would render opinions based on such interest. However, [the Plaintiff] has not shown that Dr. McLaughlin is qualified to testify about system-wide bias, if any exists, and she offers no evidence of the amount of the financial exposure doctors allegedly face from which the likelihood of such skewed opinions could be assessed. By statute, the financial exposure could be as little as $100 per year. See Ind.Code § 34–18–5–2(e). (Emphasis Added).

Id. at 55.  The Court of Appeals then held that:

When balanced against the prejudicial effect of allowing evidence of professional liability insurance, the potential for bias in this case is so remote as to warrant exclusion. ***The trial court did not clearly err in excluding the proffered bias testimony.

Id.   Ultimately the issue remains one for the trial court to resolve in its discretion.  In order to succeed in present such evidence of bias, quantifying the amount of this contribution to the patient compensation fund by each doctor may be necessary to overcome a claim of unfair prejudice by the defense.   The size of this contribution by a panel member may well vary depending upon the area of practice, the doctor’s risk history and the true number of practitioner’s that participate in the Fund.  See the Schedule below and the dollar amounts of the Compensation Fund surcharge by classification of specialties found in Indiana’s Administrative Code:

Surcharge Rates - Patient Compensation Fund

These classes breakdown as follows in terms of areas of practice per 760 IAC 1-60-3 (Rule 60):

760 IAC 1-60-3 List of physician specialty classes
Authority: IC 34-18-5-2
Affected: IC 34-18-5-2
Sec. 3. The list of physician specialty classes required by IC 34-18-5-2 is as follows:
Indiana Department of Insurance
Patient’s Compensation Fund
Physician Class Plan
Class 0
ISO Code Specialty
80001 Resident Nonmoonlighting
80221 Resident Moonlighting (No ER)
80230 Aerospace Medicine
80231 General Preventive Medicine – No Surgery
80234 Pharmacology – Clinical
80236 Public Health
80240 Legal Medicine and Forensic Medicine
80248 Nutrition
80249 Psychiatry (Including Child)
80250 Psychoanalysis
80251 Psychosomatic Medicine
80254 Allergy
80256 Dermatology – No Surgery
80263 Ophthalmology – No Surgery
80266 Pathology – No Surgery
Class 1
ISO Code Specialty
80233 Occupational Medicine
80235 Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
80237 Diabetes – No Surgery
80238 Endocrinology – No Surgery
80239 Family Practice – No Surgery
80241 Gastroenterology – No Surgery
80242 General Practice – No Surgery
80243 Geriatrics – No Surgery
80244 Gynecology – No Surgery
80245 Hematology – No Surgery
80246 Infectious Disease – No Surgery
80247 Rhinology – No Surgery
80252 Rheumatology – No Surgery
80255 Cardiovascular Disease – No Surgery
80257 Internal Medicine – No Surgery
80258 Laryngology – No Surgery
80259 Neoplastic Disease – No Surgery
80260 Nephrology – No Surgery
80261 Neurology (Including Child) – No Surgery
80262 Nuclear Medicine
80264 Otology – No Surgery
80265 Otorhinolaryngology – No Surgery
80267 Pediatrics – No Surgery
80268 Physicians (Not Otherwise Classified) – No Surgery
80269 Pulmonary Disease – No Surgery
80420 Family Physicians – No Surgery
Class 2
ISO Code Specialty
80223 Resident Moonlighting (with ER)
80253 Radiology – No Surgery
80280 Radiology – Minor Surgery
80282 Dermatology – Minor Surgery
80289 Ophthalmology – Minor Surgery
80292 Pathology – Minor Surgery
80425 Radiation Therapy – Not Otherwise Classified
80431 Shock Therapy
Class 3
ISO Code Specialty
80109 Physicians – No Major Surgery
80114 Surgery – Ophthalmology
80132 Physicians (Not Otherwise Classified) – Minor Surgery
80172 Physician (Not Otherwise Classified) – No Major Surgery
80270 Rhinology – Minor Surgery
80271 Diabetes – Minor Surgery
80272 Endocrinology – Minor Surgery
80273 Family Practice – Minor Surgery
80274 Gastroenterology – Minor Surgery
80275 General Practice – Minor Surgery
80276 Geriatrics – Minor Surgery
80277 Gynecology – Minor Surgery
80278 Hematology – Minor Surgery
80279 Infectious Diseases – Minor Surgery
80281 Cardiovascular Disease – Minor Surgery
80283 Intensive Care Medicine – Minor Surgery
80284 Internal Medicine – Minor Surgery
80285 Laryngology – Minor Surgery
80286 Neoplastic Diseases – Minor Surgery
80287 Nephrology – Minor Surgery
80288 Neurology (Including Child) – Minor Surgery
80290 Otology – Minor Surgery
80291 Otorhinolaryngology – Minor Surgery
80293 Pediatrics – Minor Surgery
80294 Physicians (Not Otherwise Classified) – Minor Surgery
80421 Family Physicians (GP) – Minor Surgery – No OB
80422 Catheterization, Not Otherwise Classified
80424 Emergency Medicine – No Surgery
Class 4
ISO Code Specialty
80000 Family Practice – with OB
80101 Broncho-Esophagology
80115 Surgery – Colon and Rectal
80117 Surgery – GP (Not Primarily Engaged in Surgery)
80145 Surgery – Urological
80151 Surgery – Anesthesiology
80163 Radiation Therapy – Employed Physicians or Surgeons with Major Surgery
80428 Physicians – Minor Invasive Procedures – Myelography
80434 Physicians – Minor Invasive Procedures – Lymphangiography
80437 Physicians – Minor Invasive Procedures – Acupuncture
80440 Physicians – Minor Invasive Procedures – Laparoscopy
80443 Physicians – Minor Invasive Procedures – Colonoscopy
80446 Physicians – Minor Invasive Procedures – Needle Biopsy
80449 Radiopaque Dye Injection
Class 5
ISO Code Specialty
80102 Emergency Medicine – No Major Surgery
80103 Physicians – Surgery – Endocrinology
80104 Physicians – Surgery – Gastroenterology
80105 Physicians – Surgery – Geriatrics
80106 Surgery – Laryngology
80107 Physicians – Surgery – Neoplastic
80108 Physicians – Surgery – Nephrology
80158 Surgery – Otology
80159 Surgery – Otorhinolaryngology
80160 Physicians – Surgery – Rhinology
80419 Family or General Practice – Major Surgery
Class 6
ISO Code Specialty
80141 Surgery – Cardiac
80143 Surgery – General Not Otherwise Classified
80155 Surgery – Plastic – Otorhinolaryngology
80156 Surgery – Plastic Not Otherwise Classified
80157 Surgery – Emergency Medicine
80166 Surgery – Abdominal
80167 Surgery – Gynecology
80169 Surgery – Hand
80170 Surgery – Head and Neck
Class 7
ISO Code Specialty
80144 Surgery – Thoracic
80146 Surgery – Vascular
80150 Surgery – Cardiovascular Disease
80154 Surgery – Orthopedic
80171 Surgery – Traumatic
Class 8
ISO Code Specialty
80152 Surgery – Neurology (Including Child)
80153 Surgery – Obstetrics/Gynecology
80168 Surgery – Obstetrics

The facts the Indiana Court of Appeals had to assume  given the underdeveloped record before the trial court, substantially underestimated the amount of money contributed by doctors and other healthcare providers on a yearly basis.  While by statute, the financial exposure could be as little as $100 per year. See Ind.Code § 34–18–5–2(e).  This is not the reality. Depending on the area of practice, the actual dollar amounts contributed by healthcare providers are from 2,222% to 25,186% higher than the $100 annual fee assumed by the Court of Appeals!  The actual potential for bias when viewing the real numbers is neither remote nor trivial.   Such evidence of financial bias on the part of Panel Members should be admissible and evaluated by the finder of fact. The probative value of such evidence is high and is not substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice. 

Impeccable Impeachment and the Use of Prior Convictions

img_0925“Trust is not simply a matter of truthfulness, or even constancy. It is also a matter of amity and goodwill. We trust those who have our best interests at heart, and mistrust those who seem deaf to our concerns.”   Gary Hamel

What are the limitations on the use of prior convictions in challenging a witness’s credibility? When are you allowed to use them? What are you allowed to reveal?  This blawg note will explore these issues.  Let’s first start with the rule:

Rule 609. Impeachment by Evidence of a Criminal Conviction

(a)      General Rule. For the purpose of attacking the credibility of a witness, evidence that the witness has been convicted of a crime or an attempt of a crime must  be admitted but only if the crime committed or attempted is (1) murder, treason, rape, robbery, kidnapping, burglary, arson, or criminal confinement; or (2) a crime involving dishonesty or false statement, including perjury.

(b)      Limit on Using the Evidence After 10 Years. This subdivision (b) applies if more than ten (10) years have passed since the witness’s conviction or release from confinement for it, whichever is later. Evidence of the conviction is admissible only if:

(1)       its probative value, supported by specific facts and circumstances, substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect; and

(2)      the proponent gives an adverse party reasonable written notice of the intent to use it so that the party has a fair opportunity to contest its use.

(c)       Effect of a Pardon, Annulment, or Certificate of Rehabilitation. Evidence of a conviction is not admissible if:

(1)       the conviction has been the subject of a pardon, annulment, certificate of rehabilitation, or other equivalent procedure based on a finding that the person has been rehabilitated, and the person has not been convicted of a later crime punishable by death or by imprisonment for more than one (1) year; or

(2)      the conviction has been the subject of a pardon, annulment, or other equivalent procedure based on a finding of innocence.

(d)      Juvenile Adjudications. Evidence of a juvenile adjudication is admissible under this rule only if:

(1)       it is offered in a criminal case;

(2)      the adjudication was of a witness other than the defendant;

(3)      an adult’s conviction for that offense would be admissible to attack the adult’s credibility; and

(4)      admitting the evidence is necessary to fairly determine guilt or innocence.

(e)      Pendency of an Appeal. A conviction that satisfies this rule is admissible even if an appeal is pending. Evidence of the pendency is also admissible.

                Juvenile Convictions:  Generally, evidence relating to juvenile delinquency proceedings cannot be used as evidence for purposes of impeachment. Ind. Evidence Rule 609(d) (1996). See also Goolsby v. State, 517 N.E.2d 54, 61 (Ind.1987) (juvenile delinquency proceedings are considered civil in nature and consequently may not be used to impeach a defendant in a criminal proceeding); Perkins v. State, 483 N.E.2d 1379, 1384 (Ind.1985) (holding that juvenile adjudications may not be used for impeachment purposes because the disposition of a juvenile does not constitute a criminal conviction).

Opening the Door: Where a party opens the door to inquiries about his criminal past, evidence of a prior conviction are admissible even though no notice was given pursuant to Evidence Rule 609(b). See Wales v. State, 768 N.E.2d 513, 520-21 (Ind.Ct.App.2002), aff’d on reh’g, 774 N.E.2d 116 (Ind.Ct.App. 2002), trans. denied. 

When Does the 10 Year Period Begin and End:  There is disagreement among jurisdictions as to the termination point of the ten-year period. See 4 J. WEINSTEIN, WEINSTEIN’S FEDERAL EVIDENCE § 609.06[2] (2d ed. 2003) (“There has also been some uncertainty about what event concludes the running of the 10-year period.”). Three different termination points have been identified by various jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions identify the termination point as the date trial begins. See United States v. Thompson, 806 F.2d 1332, 1339 (7th Cir.1986); United States v. Cathey, 591 F.2d 268, 274 n. 13 (5th Cir.1979); Sinegal v. State, 789 S.W.2d 383, 388 (Tex.App.1990). Other jurisdictions identify the termination date as the date the witness testifies or the evidence is offered. See Pepe v. Jayne, 761 F.Supp. 338, 342-43 (D.N.J.1991), aff’d, 947 F.2d 936 (3d Cir.1991); Trindle v. Sonat Marine, Inc., 697 F.Supp. 879, 881 (E.D.Pa.1988). The termination of the ten-year limit has also been identified as the date of the charged offense. See United States v. Foley, 683 F.2d 273, 277 (8th Cir.1982), cert. denied; State v. Ihnot, 575 N.W.2d 581, 585 (Minn.1998).   “Because it is the jury which must evaluate the witness’ credibility, the most appropriate time to conclude the ten year period is the date the jury actually hears the witness testify that he had been convicted of a crime.” Trindle v. Sonat Marine, Inc., 697 F.Supp. 879, 882 (E.D.Pa.1988), cited with approval by, Whiteside v. State, 853 N.E.2d 1021, 1027 (Ind. App. 2006). Judge Weinstein opines that the date the witness testifies is the appropriate termination point of the ten-year period. As he notes in his treatise, “The time of testimony appears most appropriate, since the jury must determine credibility at that moment.” 4 WEINSTEIN § 609.06[2] at 609-49; Trindle v. Sonat Marine, supra.

Guilty Pleas:  The issue of whether a guilty plea, not yet reduced to judgment, constitutes a conviction for impeachment purposes has been resolved here as well. Specht v. State, 734 N.E.2d 239 (Ind. 2000). Prior to the adoption of the Indiana Rules of Evidence, Indiana courts held that a guilty plea did, stating, “when there has been a plea of guilty it is a conviction of crime and the presumption of innocence no longer follows the defendant…. The fact that final judgment was not rendered does not alter the fact that he stands convicted of the crime to which he has entered a plea.” McDaniel v. State, 268 Ind. 380, 383, 375 N.E.2d 228, 230 (1978) (citing State v. Redman, 183 Ind. 332, 109 N.E. 184 (1915)).  McDaniel is still good law under the Indiana Rules of Evidence. Specht v. State, 734 N.E.2d at 240.

Probative Value of Conviction Must Substantially Outweigh Its Prejudicial Effect:   Cases that have discussed Rule 609(b) and the ten-year limitation have dealt with situations where the defendant wanted to impeach a State witness with prior convictions that were more than ten years old. See Stephenson v. State, 742 N.E.2d 463, 485 (Ind.2001);Schwestak v. State, 674 N.E.2d 962, 963 (Ind.1996).  Rule 609(b), unlike Rule 403, presumes the exclusion of convictions more than ten years old. See Robert Lowell Miller, Jr., Indiana Practice, Vol. 13, § 609.202, 170 (1991). As such, the party seeking to admit such convictions “must support the argument for probative value with specific facts and circumstances upon which the trial court may base a finding of admissibility.” Id. In addition, the trial court must balance the probative value against the prejudicial effect of the old convictions on the record under Rule 609(b) for an abuse of discretion. Stephenson, 742 N.E.2d at 485, Schwestak, 674 N.E.2d at 965; see United States v. Reed, 2 F.3d 1441, 1448 (7th Cir.1993).  To be admissible, the probative value, supported by specific facts and circumstances, must substantially outweigh its prejudicial effect.  This is the reverse of the test under Rule 403 which errors on the side of admitting evidence unless its prejudicial impact substantially outweighs its probative value.

Under Rule 608(b), our courts use the five-part test first enunciated in United States v. Mahone, 537 F.2d 922, 929 (7th Cir.) cert denied, 429 U.S. 1025, 97 S.Ct. 646, 50 L.Ed.2d 627 (1976), and reaffirmed in United States v. Castor, 937 F.2d 293 (7th Cir.1991), is instructive and has been adopted by Indiana courts. Under this test, the trial court is to consider the following five factors, but this list is not exclusive:

(1) the impeachment value of the prior crime;

(2) the point in time of the conviction and the witness’ subsequent history;

(3) the similarity between the past crime and the charged crimes;

(4) the importance of the defendant’s testimony; and

(5) the centrality of the credibility issue.

Castor, 937 F.2d at 299 n. 8; see Miller, at 171.

Impeaching Your Own Witness:  Even though Evidence Rule 607 authorizes a party to impeach the credibility of his own witness, a party is forbidden from placing a witness on the stand if his sole purpose in doing so is to present otherwise inadmissible evidence cloaked as impeachment. Appleton v. State, 740 N.E.2d 122, 125 (Ind. 2001).

Revelations Concerning the Facts Surrounding the Conviction:  When a prior conviction is introduced for impeachment purposes, the details of the conviction may bot be explored. Oliver v. State, 755 N.E>2d 582, 586 (Ind. 2001).  A person can only be questioned about having been convicted of a particular crime, and not the circumstances surrounding the conviction.  Id.   However, if a party elicits information that leaves the jury with a false or misleading impression of the facts involved, such conduct may open the door to additional questions to explore the matter more fully even though such an inquiry would have initially been impermissible.  Id.

Hopefully, the information here will allow you to make use of a prior criminal conviction for purposes of impeachment and prevent such evidence from being misused against your client should the tables be turned upon you.

 

What are the limitations on the use of prior convictions? When are you allowed to use them? What are you allowed to reveal?  This note will explore these issues.  Let’s first start with the rule:

Rule 609. Impeachment by Evidence of a Criminal Conviction

(a)      General Rule. For the purpose of attacking the credibility of a witness, evidence that the witness has been convicted of a crime or an attempt of a crime must  be admitted but only if the crime committed or attempted is (1) murder, treason, rape, robbery, kidnapping, burglary, arson, or criminal confinement; or (2) a crime involving dishonesty or false statement, including perjury.

(b)      Limit on Using the Evidence After 10 Years. This subdivision (b) applies if more than ten (10) years have passed since the witness’s conviction or release from confinement for it, whichever is later. Evidence of the conviction is admissible only if:

(1)       its probative value, supported by specific facts and circumstances, substantially outweighs its prejudicial effect; and

(2)      the proponent gives an adverse party reasonable written notice of the intent to use it so that the party has a fair opportunity to contest its use.

(c)       Effect of a Pardon, Annulment, or Certificate of Rehabilitation. Evidence of a conviction is not admissible if:

(1)       the conviction has been the subject of a pardon, annulment, certificate of rehabilitation, or other equivalent procedure based on a finding that the person has been rehabilitated, and the person has not been convicted of a later crime punishable by death or by imprisonment for more than one (1) year; or

(2)      the conviction has been the subject of a pardon, annulment, or other equivalent procedure based on a finding of innocence.

(d)      Juvenile Adjudications. Evidence of a juvenile adjudication is admissible under this rule only if:

(1)       it is offered in a criminal case;

(2)      the adjudication was of a witness other than the defendant;

(3)      an adult’s conviction for that offense would be admissible to attack the adult’s credibility; and

(4)      admitting the evidence is necessary to fairly determine guilt or innocence.

(e)      Pendency of an Appeal. A conviction that satisfies this rule is admissible even if an appeal is pending. Evidence of the pendency is also admissible.

Below are some thoughts on some of the issues concerning the use and admissibility of prior convictions:

                Juvenile Convictions:  Generally, evidence relating to juvenile delinquency proceedings cannot be used as evidence for purposes of impeachment. Ind. Evidence Rule 609(d) (1996). See also Goolsby v. State, 517 N.E.2d 54, 61 (Ind.1987) (juvenile delinquency proceedings are considered civil in nature and consequently may not be used to impeach a defendant in a criminal proceeding); Perkins v. State, 483 N.E.2d 1379, 1384 (Ind.1985) (holding that juvenile adjudications may not be used for impeachment purposes because the disposition of a juvenile does not constitute a criminal conviction).

Opening the Door: Where a party opens the door to inquiries about his criminal past, evidence of a prior conviction are admissible even though no notice was given pursuant to Evidence Rule 609(b). See Wales v. State, 768 N.E.2d 513, 520-21 (Ind.Ct.App.2002), aff’d on reh’g, 774 N.E.2d 116 (Ind.Ct.App. 2002), trans. denied. 

When Does the 10 Year Period Begin and End:  There is disagreement among jurisdictions as to the termination point of the ten-year period. See 4 J. WEINSTEIN, WEINSTEIN’S FEDERAL EVIDENCE § 609.06[2] (2d ed. 2003) (“There has also been some uncertainty about what event concludes the running of the 10-year period.”). Three different termination points have been identified by various jurisdictions. Some jurisdictions identify the termination point as the date trial begins. See United States v. Thompson, 806 F.2d 1332, 1339 (7th Cir.1986); United States v. Cathey, 591 F.2d 268, 274 n. 13 (5th Cir.1979); Sinegal v. State, 789 S.W.2d 383, 388 (Tex.App.1990). Other jurisdictions identify the termination date as the date the witness testifies or the evidence is offered. See Pepe v. Jayne, 761 F.Supp. 338, 342-43 (D.N.J.1991), aff’d, 947 F.2d 936 (3d Cir.1991); Trindle v. Sonat Marine, Inc., 697 F.Supp. 879, 881 (E.D.Pa.1988). The termination of the ten-year limit has also been identified as the date of the charged offense. See United States v. Foley, 683 F.2d 273, 277 (8th Cir.1982), cert. denied; State v. Ihnot, 575 N.W.2d 581, 585 (Minn.1998).   “Because it is the jury which must evaluate the witness’ credibility, the most appropriate time to conclude the ten year period is the date the jury actually hears the witness testify that he had been convicted of a crime.” Trindle v. Sonat Marine, Inc., 697 F.Supp. 879, 882 (E.D.Pa.1988), cited with approval by, Whiteside v. State, 853 N.E.2d 1021, 1027 (Ind. App. 2006). Judge Weinstein opines that the date the witness testifies is the appropriate termination point of the ten-year period. As he notes in his treatise, “The time of testimony appears most appropriate, since the jury must determine credibility at that moment.” 4 WEINSTEIN § 609.06[2] at 609-49; Trindle v. Sonat Marine, supra.

Guilty Pleas:  The issue of whether a guilty plea, not yet reduced to judgment, constitutes a conviction for impeachment purposes has been resolved here as well. Specht v. State, 734 N.E.2d 239 (Ind. 2000). Prior to the adoption of the Indiana Rules of Evidence, Indiana courts held that a guilty plea did, stating, “when there has been a plea of guilty it is a conviction of crime and the presumption of innocence no longer follows the defendant…. The fact that final judgment was not rendered does not alter the fact that he stands convicted of the crime to which he has entered a plea.” McDaniel v. State, 268 Ind. 380, 383, 375 N.E.2d 228, 230 (1978) (citing State v. Redman, 183 Ind. 332, 109 N.E. 184 (1915)).  McDaniel is still good law under the Indiana Rules of Evidence. Specht v. State, 734 N.E.2d at 240.

Probative Value of Conviction Must Substantially Outweigh Its Prejudicial Effect:   Cases that have discussed Rule 609(b) and the ten-year limitation have dealt with situations where the defendant wanted to impeach a State witness with prior convictions that were more than ten years old. See Stephenson v. State, 742 N.E.2d 463, 485 (Ind.2001);Schwestak v. State, 674 N.E.2d 962, 963 (Ind.1996).  Rule 609(b), unlike Rule 403, presumes the exclusion of convictions more than ten years old. See Robert Lowell Miller, Jr., Indiana Practice, Vol. 13, § 609.202, 170 (1991). As such, the party seeking to admit such convictions “must support the argument for probative value with specific facts and circumstances upon which the trial court may base a finding of admissibility.” Id. In addition, the trial court must balance the probative value against the prejudicial effect of the old convictions on the record under Rule 609(b) for an abuse of discretion. Stephenson, 742 N.E.2d at 485, Schwestak, 674 N.E.2d at 965; see United States v. Reed, 2 F.3d 1441, 1448 (7th Cir.1993).  To be admissible, the probative value, supported by specific facts and circumstances, must substantially outweigh its prejudicial effect.  This is the reverse of the test under Rule 403 which errors on the side of admitting evidence unless its prejudicial impact substantially outweighs its probative value.

Under Rule 608(b), our courts use the five-part test first enunciated in United States v. Mahone, 537 F.2d 922, 929 (7th Cir.) cert denied, 429 U.S. 1025, 97 S.Ct. 646, 50 L.Ed.2d 627 (1976), and reaffirmed in United States v. Castor, 937 F.2d 293 (7th Cir.1991), is instructive and has been adopted by Indiana courts. Under this test, the trial court is to consider the following five factors, but this list is not exclusive:

(1) the impeachment value of the prior crime;

(2) the point in time of the conviction and the witness’ subsequent history;

(3) the similarity between the past crime and the charged crimes;

(4) the importance of the defendant’s testimony; and

(5) the centrality of the credibility issue.

Castor, 937 F.2d at 299 n. 8; see Miller, at 171.

Impeaching Your Own Witness:  Even though Evidence Rule 607 authorizes a party to impeach the credibility of his own witness, a party is forbidden from placing a witness on the stand if his sole purpose in doing so is to present otherwise inadmissible evidence cloaked as impeachment. Appleton v. State, 740 N.E.2d 122, 125 (Ind. 2001).

Revelations Concerning the Facts Surrounding the Conviction:  When a prior conviction is introduced for impeachment purposes, the details of the conviction may bot be explored. Oliver v. State, 755 N.E>2d 582, 586 (Ind. 2001).  A person can only be questioned about having been convicted of a particular crime, and not the circumstances surrounding the conviction.  Id.   However, if a party elicits information that leaves the jury with a false or misleading impression of the facts involved, such conduct may open the door to additional questions to explore the matter more fully even though such an inquiry would have initially been impermissible.  Id.

Hopefully, the information here will allow you to make use of a prior criminal conviction for purposes of impeachment and prevent such evidence from being misused against your client should the tables be turned upon you.

 

Do it for the love…

Today I learned Magistrate LaRue died after leaving legacy of doing justice on the bench as fine and fair jurist.  As a private attorney she advocated for civil rights for the everyday man.  She did it for the love.  

A friend of my son Al, John Overton, released a rap/hip hop Album “While I Was Away” which contains a song my son collaborated with him on  called “Do It for the Love” which carries this theme through it lyrics.  They are pursuing their love making music.

I have always told my children all I want is “the love”.  Life is short and uncertain. No matter what your goals in life are “do it for the love”, not the money.  Your greatest chance for personal fulfillment is to do what you love.  As the line goes “if you do a job you love, you’ll never work a day in your life”.

I am lucky because I am doing what I love… advocating for the everyday man sometimes against long odds and literally at times fighting City Hall.  To those, such as myself, who are fortunate enough to have the privilege to practice law,  pursue justice and strive for excellence, but above all else do it for the love. God bless…

Limiting the Damage

So you lose an evidentiary argument and the court allows some potentially prejudicial evidence to be presented for some narrow purpose such as bias, impeachment or to show intent, similar plan, motive or scheme.  So what should you do?  

Indiana follows “the rule of multiple admissibility” endorsed by the evidence treatises of both Whitmore and McCormick. Under this rule, evidence that is admissible for one purpose is admissible, even though it might be excluded from consideration by the jury if it was offered for another improper purpose.  The opponent of the evidence is protected, not by exclusion of the evidence, but instead by the use of a limiting instruction. Indiana Evidence Rule 105 provides:

 “If the court admits evidence that is admissible against a party or for a purpose—but not against another party or for another purpose—the court, on timely request, must restrict the evidence to its proper scope and instruct the jury accordingly.”

The party seeking to limit the evidence has the duty to request the instruction. Small v. State, 736 N.E.2d 742, 746 (Ind. 2000) (observing “a trial court has no affirmative duty to admonish a jury sua sponte as to such evidentiary matters”).  As a result you should ask the court to specifically define the area of use and address inappropriate inferences or uses which are prohibited.  Indiana Pattern Instruction No. 527 Evidence Admitted for a Limited Purposes states:

During the trial, I instructed you to consider certain evidence only for specific, limited purposes. You must consider that evidence only for those limited purposes.

Evidence relevant for some legitimate purpose,  can only be excluded if it violates the precepts of Indiana Rule of Evidence 403.  Under this rule, the danger of unfair prejudice has to substantially outweigh the evidence’s probative value in order to exclude it, thereby tipping the scales in favor of admissibility.

Keep these thoughts in mind the next time you need to limit the damage…

Admissibility and the Burden of Proof are as Different as Apples and Oranges…

In a recent case, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that a nurse practitioner can provide expert medical testimony in areas previously reserved to only medical doctors.  In the decision from the Indiana Court of Appeals it allowed a Nurse Practitioner to testify as an expert witnesses in a soft-tissue case. See the link below:

http://publicaccess.courts.in.gov/Appellate/Document?id=186f4912-5b99-4061-8760-648e61c69cb5

In the decision,the Indiana Court of Appeals held that a nurse practitioner may testify that an injury was consistent with being injured in a particular way, but could go no further unless they witnesses the injury occur.

What is admissible and the admissibility standard applied are different than the quantum of evidence required to meet the necessary burden of proof and avoid a directed verdict. For example under our evidentiary rules relevance is determined by:

Rule 401. Test for Relevant Evidence

Evidence is relevant if: (a) it has any tendency to make a fact more or less probable than it would be without the evidence; and (b) the fact is of consequence in determining the action.

Admissibility for evidentiary purposes requires you to meet a very low threshold as seen above under IRE 401.  As a result, I would stick with a “reasonable degree of medical probability” in formulating medical/legal questions needed to establish an essential element of your claim. A particular medical finding could be consistent with multiple diagnoses. A mere possibility makes a finding consistent, but not necessarily probable.  So exercise discretion.  

The Corrosive Effects of Greed on Credibility 

“Don’t take a good case, try to make it a great case, and turn it into a bad case.”    Richard Cook 

I never take on a new client without sharing the quote above with them.  The most valuable component of any personal injury case is the client’s credibility… period, end of case. If you exaggerate or stretch your claim beyond the bounds of your evidence, then your client will lose credibility, devalue your client’s claim and lose their case.

The number one tactic most defense attorneys use to undermine a personal injury case, is to encourage the injured client to overstate or exaggerate their claim while under oath in a deposition or to omit their history of a past injury to the same portion of the body or to hide a prior collision or claim. The client thinks, “Why tell them, they may never find out.”  However, they almost always do. The defense argues, “Why did your client do these things (they said they couldn’t do)?  Simple… because they don’t have a legitimate claim.”

Honesty is not just the best moral policy, it is also the best economic policy when it comes to the value of a personal injury case.  

So don’t forget the quote and don’t let your client forget it either.

Readying Your Experts for Traps and Tough Questions


Depositions are dangerous time for your expert.  Dangerous traps lies just around the corner. You cannot relax.  Here are some thoughts on this important topic.

1. Tendencies of your expert: If you can obtain and read past depositions of your
expert to see not only what type of questions are asked but how he reacts. Does he ramble or
argue? Does he fail to listen to the question or dodge it? Is he argumentative or polite and
professional? You may want to run through some questions, especially problems so your expert
is ready to address them. If the expert is new to the practice, I would video tape the questioning
so the expert can see how he reacts objectively evaluate his performance.  

2. Do not hide bad evidence from your expert, deal with it. If you hide bad
evidence from your expert, you will expose your expert to potential embarrassment. He may
even be force to abandon your side of the case because he was not prepared for what was coming
and unwittingly made imprudent concessions earlier in the deposition.  

3. What does the expert consider authoritative as a learned treatise? This will
be asked. How will he answer the question? If at all possible, avoid doing the deposition in the expert’s office. It will only provide bookshelves full of ideas for authoritative materials to ask
and cross examine your expert about at trial  

4. Screen your expert. Make sure you have already screened your expert’s curriculum vita in
advance for any bluster or bull not supported by the facts. Hopefully, this was done before  you ever hired your expert.  

5. Obtain Historical Medical Records. The prior medical history of a Plaintiff can
seriously undermine a case’s value and the client’s credibility. It is important to obtain all  significant prior medical history from a client. If you don’t, the defense attorney will. Without a  full medical history, a client is prone to make misstatements and create fertile ground for  purposes of impeachment at the time of trial. Likewise, expert witnesses will be unable to  address and deal with any potential weaknesses you might have as a result of any pre-existing  medical condition or prior injury. While it is tempting to limit your pretrial production of  records to those postdating the injury, it is better to do the investigation yourself ahead of time.  

6. Prepare a Medical Chronology – A detailed medical chronology prepared ahead
of their deposition, will give you a means to identify and refresh the expert’s memory regarding  past illnesses and injuries, and avoid making misstatements at the time of the deposition, or  worse, at the time of trial. In addition, by reviewing the past medical chronology with your  expert, you can address responses to the resolution of prior symptoms and/or problems.  

7. Prior Lawsuits and Claims – It is important to promptly identify any prior
litigation your expert may have been involved in as either a litigant or as a witness. The prior  proceedings can create a ready resource of impeachment through the use of pleadings, discovery  responses and depositions. Failure to identify such easily verifiable information can also make it  appear as if your expert is a liar. The prior litigation also provides background information on your expert that could lead to surprises.  

 
8. Compound Questions – Compound questions are questions, which incorporate  two questions in one. They are very deceptive and dangerous because a yes or no answer can be  interpreted as an affirmative response to the underlying predicate. For example, “Do you beat  your wife only on Tuesdays and Thursdays?” is actually two questions in one. The first question  is, “Do you beat your wife?” and if yes, is it only on Tuesdays and Thursdays? Make sure your  expert can identify an undisclosed predicate to a question which makes it compound in case you  fail to object.  

9. Summary Questions – Another classic approach to the compound question is to
summarize an expert’s prior testimony, and then ask at the tail end a yes or no question. Experts  often focus only on the yes or no question, and forget that by answering the question without  objection or clarification they are affirming the entire scenario outlined in the question. While  you, as an attorney, should object to such questions, it is important to educate the expert on these problems as well, in case you fall asleep at the switch.  

10. Box Questions – Questions in Absolute Terms – Questions cast in absolute
terms can also be a problem. Opposing counsel wants to limit your expert’s basis for his opinions and show that he overlooked or ignored some important facts. If he is attempting to exhaust your
expert’s knowledge of the facts on a topic, your expert should indicate “that is all I can recall at
this time.” This leaves an opening to refresh your expert’s memory and supplement or correct  the answer through the errata sheet. Whenever an attorney uses such terms as, “Do you always” or, “Have you never,” they are attempting to lock your expert in absolute terms. There is nothing  wrong with being absolutely sure, you just want to make sure that that is, in fact, the case. If  there are exceptions, then the expert needs to avoid answering such questions in the affirmative.  On the other hand, defense attorneys will use such absolute terms as a means of unnerving an  expert and backing them off of their testimony. The point is, make sure if you answer in absolute  terms, that you’re absolutely correct.  

11. Milk-Toast Answers – The flip side of this is to water down answers with
qualifiers such as, “I think,” “I believe,” or, “In my opinion,” when you actually know the facts.  Make sure your expert avoids using such terminology. It is better to indicate that you don’t know  or recall than to guess or speculate. Once again, the primary rule is to answer truthfully and  accurately.  

12. Do not exaggerate – Don’t take a good case, try to make it a great case, and turn
it into a bad case. Do not be an advocate. Be an expert.  

13. Remember you are a professional. Don’t respond in kind to impolite or rude
comments by opposing counsel. The only thing a witness has absolute control over is their  behavior and demeanor. By emphasizing this point with your expert, you can both empower and  relax them. No matter how rude or aggressive the other attorney is, it’s important for the expert  to remain calm and composed. By doing this, the deposition will typically be shorter. When an  opposing attorney senses he has drawn blood, he will simply bore in with more of the same. An  expert can tactically overcome this by simply remaining calm. Likewise, the expert needs to be  cautioned to avoid any sarcasm or insincere solicitous comments.  

14. Identify and explain what items which are privileged – Another classic
question to unnerve a witness t that attorneys will often use is, “Have you talked too anybody  about this case?” Sometimes, a witness will think that they’ve done something wrong by  discussing their testimony in advance. The expert should be put at ease that there is nothing  wrong with preparing for their deposition or meeting with you in advance. In fact, most jurors  expect attorneys to meet with their witnesses, in order to properly prepare for trial or a  deposition. Discussions with counsel are privileged as work product because they are  communication with counsel. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(4)(C). If the question is posed by  opposing counsel and you fall asleep at the switch, you want to make sure that your expert seeks  a clarification as to whether the attorney is, “Asking for information discussed with counsel.” If  your expert has discussed the case with other persons, you want to identify this well in advance  of the deposition. Some experts, especially teaching experts, will discuss pending cases during  their lectures. I can recall one case where this occurred and the expert was impeached at trial  with tape recordings of his lecture with devastating effect. Loose lips sink both ships and cases.  

15. Review all evidentiary foundations – You should review the appropriate
foundational requirements for the admission of any records, tests, or other analysis which is not stipulated to by the opposing party. Remember under Rule of Evidence 703, your expert can
consider matters outside the evidentiary record at trial in reaching his opinion.

16. Standard of proof or level of confidence required – this distinction has
somewhat dissipated. However, a number of judges are still requiring use of the magic words.
Typically at the beginning it make sense to asked that you expert give his opinion in the case
based upon a reasonable degree of medical or scientific probability unless instructed otherwise.
Caution your expert to avoid using the phrase “possible” since it is legally meaningless.  

 
17. Reliance on materials outside of the court record. The facts or data in the  particular case upon which an expert bases an opinion or inference may be those perceived by or
made known to the expert at or before the hearing. Experts may testify to opinions based on  inadmissible evidence, provided that it is of the type reasonably relied upon by experts in the
field. Federal Rule of Evidence 703. Typically, I would ask the expert ‘if in reaching his  opinions and conclusions in this case, did he use only materials reasonably relied upon by  persons in his field?  

 18. The Subpoena Duces Tecum Trap – Make sure any subpoena is dealt with well
in advance of the deposition. You should personally review with your expert all items sought
and insure nothing is “lost” or destroyed which is in existence at the time the subpoena is issued.
A privilege log should be prepared for any items withheld and a motion for protective order
sought if agreement cannot be reached on how to handle the subpoena. Blanket claims of  privilege are not favored. The party seeking to avoid discovery has the burden of establishing the
essential elements of the privilege being invoked. United States v. Lawless, 709 F.2d 485,  487(7th Cir.1983). The claim of privilege must be made and sustained on a question-by-question
or document-by-document basis. Id., citing United States v. First State Bank, 691 F.2d 332,  335(7th Cir.1982); Matter of Walsh, 623 F.2d 489, 493 (7th Cir.1980), cert. denied, 449 U.S.
994, 101 S.Ct. 531, 66 L.Ed.2d 291. Spoliation of evidence by your expert in response to a  subpoena can lead to sanctions, a contempt citation and an adverse instruction to the jury.  Spesco, Inc. v. General Elec. Co., 719 F.2d 233, 239 (7th Cir. 1983); see also Adkins v. Mid- America Growers, Inc., 141 F.R.D. 466, 473 (N.D. Ill. 1992) (“In cases where evidence has been
intentionally destroyed, it may be presumed that the materials were relevant.”).  

19. Give the shortest accurate answer… Remember a deposition is not a
conversation – The purpose of a discovery deposition is to learn as much as one can about the
opposing expert. When answering a question give the shortest accurate answer. Explain only
when asked. Do not ramble. Repeat after me: A deposition is not a conversation. A deposition
is not a conversation. A deposition is not a conversation! 

Run through these points with your expert so he can avoids the “traps” of litigation and not end up stuck in the “sand.”

Guarding Your Expert from Aggressive Counsel

 
Preparation is your greatest tool to avoid problems caused by difficult or agressive
attorneys. Ultimately, once you are at the deposition there is little you can do without risking
sanctions. Harassing behavior. If an attorney engages in ongoing harassing behavior which
is truly beyond the pale, call the magistrate of court and have a discovery conference. However,
make sure it is truly exceptional. 

 As mentioned earlier, your best tool to control the deposition is to prepare your expert. If
truly extraordinary harassment or name calling occurs and persists even after you have addressed
it on the record, and the Court is not available to resolve your dispute, you can move to terminate
the deposition. Rule 30(d)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a litigant to suspend
a deposition at any point for the purpose of filing a motion to terminate or limit the deposition on  the grounds that it is “being conducted in a manner that unreasonably annoys, embarrasses or  oppresses the deponent or the litigant.” Obscenity or insults, persistent questioning that  embarrasses a witness or concerns privileged matter are sufficient grounds for suspending or  terminating a deposition. See Redwood v. Dobson, 476 F.3d 462 (7th Cir. 2007); Lewis v. United  Air Lines Transp. Corp., 32 F. Supp. 21 (W.D. Pa. 1940); Broadbent v. Moore-McCormack  Lines, 5 F.R.D. 220 (E.D. Pa. 1946); Shapiro v. Freeman, 38 F.R.D. 308 (S.D.N.Y. 1965).  

If a suspension is sought, the deposition remains postponed until such time as the court issues an
order. The loser is subject to fees and sanctions under Rule 37(a)(5). Smith v. Logansport Community Schools Corp., 139 F.R.D. 637 (N.D. Ind. 1991).

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