Susan K. Carpenter
Lorraine L. Rodts
Jeffrey A. Modisett
Randi E. Froug
Public Defender of Indiana
Deputy Public Defender
ATTORNEYS FOR APPELLEE
Attorney General of Indiana
Deputy Attorney General
Susan K. Carpenter
Lorraine L. Rodts
Jeffrey A. Modisett
Randi E. Froug
court sentenced Standifer to an aggregate term of ninety years imprisonment. He raises one
issue on appeal: whether the trial court violated his Sixth Amendment right to confrontation
when it precluded him from cross-examining two of the State's witnesses about their bias
based on the fact that one was a confidential informant and the other was on parole. We
agree that the trial court erred in constraining cross-examination on these points, but we
affirm the trial court because the errors were harmless in light of the other evidence.
and Worman witnessed no fight between Boehm and Standifer. Worman left Boehm's
house, thinking that Standifer would follow him.
Worman returned to his truck alone where he encountered a DePauw police officer but did not report what he had witnessed at Boehm's house. When the Farleys arrived at the truck, Worman told them that he thought Standifer may have killed a man. The Farleys and Worman returned to the Farleys' house where Standifer soon called seeking a ride. Standifer spoke on the phone to both Farleys and also to Worman. Worman testified that Standifer told him to bring his truck to Boehm's house to pick up Boehm's television and VCR. Gloria testified that Standifer told her that he had tied up a man and she heard him threaten to cut the man's jugular if he did not shut up. She also testified that she heard the sound of someone being hit and a gurgling sound like the man was trying to scream out but he couldn't exactly do it. After Standifer hung up, the Farleys and Worman decided to call the police. When the police arrived at Boehm's house they found Boehm lying on the floor in a pool of blood, gasping for air. No one else was in the ransacked house.
Standifer was found hiding behind the Farleys' house. He admitted to police that after he hit Boehm in the face with a bottle, he continued to beat Boehm with his fist and kick him in the ribs, but he claimed it was in self-defense. He also beat Boehm with a fireplace iron or shovel, hit him with a plate, tied Boehm's wrists with an extension cord and put a blindfold on him. Standifer admitted that he went above what was necessary in beating Boehm. He then ransacked Boehm's house and took several items including jewelry and a VCR.
harassment, prejudice, confusion or interrogation on issues only marginally relevant.
Delaware v. Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. 673, 679, 106 S. Ct. 1431, 89 L. Ed. 2d 674 (1986).
Standifer argues that his constitutional right to confront the witnesses against him was
violated when the trial court limited his ability to cross-examine Worman and Larry on
matters that established their bias in favor of the State and would have impaired their
credibility. Standifer correctly points out that [t]he partiality of a witness is subject to
exploration at trial, and is always relevant as discrediting the witness and affecting the
weight of his testimony. Davis, 415 U.S. at 316 (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted); accord Thornton v. State, 712 N.E.2d 960, 963-64 (Ind. 1999) (defendant must be
afforded opportunity to conduct cross-examination of the State's witnesses to test their
The trial court did not permit Standifer to cross-examine Worman about becoming an informant for the police sometime after Boehm died. Standifer argues that Worman's status as an informant and his resulting bias in favor of the State was relevant to the jury's assessment of Worman's credibility. Indiana courts have agreed that without knowing the witness' status as an informant, the jury did not have the necessary information from which to make a meaningful evaluation of [the witness'] credibility. Janner v. State, 521 N.E.2d 709, 716 (Ind. Ct. App. 1988).
Similarly, the trial court prevented Standifer from cross-examining Larry about the amount of time remaining on a sentence he had served for possession of crystal methamphetamine. Larry was on parole at the time of Boehm's death and Standifer's trial.
Standifer argued that the amount of time remaining on Larry's sentence was a motivating
factor in his cooperation with the State that would affect the jury's assessment of his
credibility. Although there was no evidence of a deal between the State and Larry based on
his cooperation, Standifer is correct that the extent of a benefit offered to a witness is
relevant to the jury's determination of the weight and credibility of a witness' testimony.
Jarrett v. State, 498 N.E.2d 967, 968 (Ind. 1986); Pfefferkorn v. State, 413 N.E.2d 1088,
1089 (Ind. Ct. App. 1980) (A witness's bias, prejudice or ulterior motives are always
relevant in that they may discredit him [or her] or affect the weight of [the] testimony.).
The U.S. Supreme Court has held that by cutting off all questioning about an event that . . . a jury might reasonably have found furnished the witness a motive for favoring the prosecution in his testimony, the court's ruling violated respondent's rights secured by the Confrontation Clause. Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. at 679 (State dismissed witness' drunkenness charge after speaking with authorities about the defendant's case). We agree that the trial court erred in limiting Standifer's opportunity to cross-examine Worman and Larry about their incentives to testify favorably for the State. See Davis, 415 U.S. at 316 (the exposure of a witness' motivation in testifying is a proper and important function of the constitutionally protected right of cross-examination).
Although Standifer was denied the opportunity to fully cross-examine Worman and Larry about their bias in favor of the State, his convictions will not be reversed if the State can demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt that the error complained of did not contribute to the verdict obtained. Chapman v. California, 386 U.S. 18, 24, 87 S. Ct. 824, 17 L. Ed.
2d 705 (1967); accord Van Arsdall, 475 U.S. at 684 (the constitutionally improper denial
of a defendant's opportunity to impeach a witness for bias, like other Confrontation Clause
errors, is subject to Chapman harmless-error analysis). Whether the trial court's error is
harmless depends on several factors including the importance of the witness' testimony
in the prosecution's case, whether the testimony was cumulative, the presence or absence
of evidence corroborating or contradicting the testimony of the witness on material points,
the extent of cross-examination otherwise permitted, and, of course, the overall strength
of the prosecution's case. Id.; accord Munn v. State, 505 N.E.2d 782, 786 (Ind. 1987);
Andrews v. State, 588 N.E.2d 1298, 1302 (Ind. Ct. App. 1992) (error in limiting the
testimony of witness was harmless because the jury was under no illusion concerning the
informant's credibility or character given the testimony elicited from the informant on
cross-examination that included the informant's prior criminal history, his relationship with
the police concerning other controlled drug buys, his present unemployment, and the fact
that he was a drug dealer).
Standifer argues that his self-defense claim was undermined by Worman's testimony that he saw Standifer hit Boehm with the bottle without provocation and that Boehm did not attack Standifer. Standifer argues that if Worman's bias in favor of the State were known to the jury, it would have discredited Worman's account and accepted Standifer's self-defense claim. He also argues that Larry's bias in favor of the State based on the time remaining on his possession sentence would have discredited his testimony that he heard Standifer threaten to cut Boehm's throat.
SHEPARD, C.J., and DICKSON, and SULLIVAN, JJ., concur.
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