Bryant v. State

Decision Date29 January 2004
Docket NumberNo. 31A01-0209-CR-365.,31A01-0209-CR-365.
Citation802 N.E.2d 486
PartiesArthur John BRYANT, Appellant-Defendant, v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee-Plaintiff.
CourtIndiana Appellate Court

Matthew Jon McGovern, Louisville, KY, Attorney for Appellant.

Steve Carter, Attorney General of Indiana, Michael Gene Worden, Deputy Attorney General, Indianapolis, IN, Attorneys for Appellee.


BAKER, Judge.

Appellant-defendant Arthur John Bryant appeals his conviction for Murder,1 a felony, Theft,2 a class D felony, and Obstruction of Justice,3 a class D felony, raising a number of issues. Specifically, Bryant claims entitlement to reversal because: (1) an inculpatory statement he made to his mother at the police station should have been suppressed because it was improperly obtained by detectives who had eavesdropped and recorded the conversation; (2) evidence he offered in an attempt to establish that his father was the individual who had killed his stepmother was improperly excluded; (3) certain song lyrics Bryant wrote that the State introduced into evidence should have been excluded because they were irrelevant and prejudicial; and (4) evidence regarding incidents where he had choked his mother and had threatened her on prior occasions was irrelevant and prejudicial and should have been excluded. Bryant also argues that the sentence imposed was inappropriate. Concluding that none of the errors that Bryant present amount to reversible error, we affirm the convictions and sentence.


The facts most favorable to the verdict are that seventeen-year-old Bryant was living with his father, Lee, and stepmother, Carol. Kristi—Bryant's mother—determined that she could no longer control her son's behavior. At some point, Bryant had been adjudicated a juvenile delinquent for committing a number of offenses.

It was revealed that Bryant stole from Kristi, threatened her with a baseball bat and choked her on at least one occasion. Bryant had also threatened to kill Carol and expressed hostility toward her in some poetry he had written, which included references to a person being found dead in the trunk of an automobile. On Tuesday, January 4, 2000, Bryant and Carol argued. When Lee returned home from work the following day, neither Bryant nor Carol was at home. Lee eventually discovered a note Bryant had written explaining that he was going to spend the night with his friend, Doug Kintner. However, when Carol did not return home, Lee became concerned and telephoned Carol's mother and some other people. Lee also drove to various places in search of his wife. When Carol had still not returned the following day, Lee reported her missing to the police.

The police discovered Carol's vehicle early Saturday morning on State Road 56 in Washington County. At Kristi's suggestion, the police looked inside the trunk and found Carol's dead body wrapped in a comforter. An investigation revealed that Carol had died from asphyxiation as a result of ligature strangulation. Thereafter, the police located Bryant and arrested him in Salem on January 8, 2000. At the time of the arrest, Bryant was approximately one month away from his eighteenth birthday.

It was determined that between Wednesday and Saturday, Bryant had driven Carol's vehicle, with her body inside the trunk. He showed off the car to his friends, gave away some of Carol's jewelry, and sold some of her property to a pawnshop.

After the arrest, Bryant told his mother that he could not take any more of Carol's "crap," and he also had told Lee that "it was either her or me." Tr. p. 1351-55; 1449-50, 1950-52. DNA analysis on a pair of jeans recovered by the police from the trunk of Carol's car showed that the jeans contained Carol's bodily fluids, and that Bryant had worn the jeans.

While at the police station, Detective Richard Bauman of the Harrison County Sheriff's Office attempted to question Bryant. Bryant immediately requested the presence of an attorney, whereupon Detective Bauman permitted him to consult with Kristi in an interview room. However, Detective Bauman and Officer William Whelen secretly listened to the conversation and recorded it by means of a hidden microphone and video camera. While the recording is inaudible, Detective Bauman and the officer both testified "[d]uring the time set for Kristi and [Bryant] to talk, [Bryant] informed her that he had told his father that he had a problem with Carol. He told his father to take care of it or he would. He said he took care of it." Tr. p. 271, 277, 1355. Detective Bauman initially testified at a motion to suppress hearing and in his deposition that he heard this statement as he entered the interview room. However, he changed his testimony at trial, indicating that he heard this statement while secretly listening to the conversation by means of the hidden microphone. While Bryant objected to Officer Bauman's testimony, he failed to object to the statements made by Officer Whelen.

Also at trial, the State established that Bryant enjoyed listening to rap music and would spend time rewriting the lyrics to certain songs. Some of the lyrics Bryant wrote referenced placing a body in the trunk of a car. At some point, the police discovered the poems, and the State offered them into evidence in an effort to insinuate that they foretold Carol's murder.

Bryant's defense at trial was that Lee had committed the murder. In an effort to establish that defense, Bryant made offers of proof to demonstrate that Carol and Lee's relationship was violent. The particular evidence sought to establish that Carol feared Lee and wanted to leave him. Several witnesses testified that Lee had physically attacked Carol several months before the murder. These witnesses also testified that Lee would choke Carol during his attacks.

Two officers also testified regarding a domestic disturbance that occurred between Lee and Carol on February 5, 1995. Both officers testified that Carol was bleeding and had redness around her neck. A life-long friend also testified about Lee's violent attacks on Carol. Two of Carol and Lee's neighbors testified that they witnessed Lee attack Carol in Carol's front yard on one occasion. Another neighbor witnessed Lee shove Carol in September or October prior to Carol's death. The trial court ultimately excluded the admission of most of this evidence on relevancy and hearsay grounds. The trial court also noted that the prior acts of violence were too remote in time as a basis for his ruling.

At conclusion of the jury trial on August 21, 2001, Bryant was convicted on all counts. Thereafter, the trial court sentenced him to sixty years for Murder, two years and three months for theft, and two years and three months on the obstruction of justice charge. Bryant was ordered to serve the sentences consecutively to each other and consecutive to the sentences that he had received in all other cases. As a result, Bryant was ordered to serve sixty-four and one-half years in this cause, plus the sentences in the other causes for a total of eighty-one and one-half years. Bryant now appeals.

I. Inculpatory Statements

Bryant first claims that he is entitled to a new trial because police officers secretly listened to—and viewed—a conversation that Bryant had with his mother in an interview room at the police station. In essence, Bryant contends that the incriminating statements he made should have been suppressed because the police conduct amounted to a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution as well as the rights guaranteed under Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution. Appellant's Br. p. 8.

Inasmuch as Bryant was seventeen-years-old at the time of his arrest, the provisions of our juvenile waiver of rights statute, Indiana Code section 31-32-5-1, are applicable in these circumstances. In relevant part, this statute makes it clear that a right guaranteed to a child under the United States or Indiana Constitution may be waived only: (2) by the child's custodial parent, guardian, custodian, or guardian ad litem if:

(A) that person knowingly and voluntarily waives the right;
(B) that person has no interest adverse to the child;
(C) meaningful consultation has occurred between that person and the child; and
(D) the child knowingly and voluntarily joins with the waiver.

We have observed that strict compliance governing waiver of the constitutional rights of a child is required in order to protect the child's rights. Hickman v. State, 654 N.E.2d 278, 281 (Ind.Ct.App. 1995). Moreover, the State must show beyond a reasonable doubt that a juvenile's waiver of the right to remain silent was made knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily, which determination is made from the totality of the circumstances, considering only that evidence favorable to the State and any uncontested evidence. Tingle v. State, 632 N.E.2d 345, 352 (Ind. 1994).

Inasmuch as Bryant was a juvenile at the time the statements were made, the police could not attempt to question him without first permitting him to have a meaningful consultation with a parent or guardian. Our juvenile waiver of rights statute requires actual consultation of a meaningful nature. D.D.B. v. State, 691 N.E.2d 486, 487 (Ind.Ct.App.1998). Moreover, the consultation can be meaningful only in the absence of police pressure. Washington v. State, 456 N.E.2d 382, 383-84 (Ind.1983).

In this case, the evidence shows, and the State concedes, that "police monitoring and videotaping of a consultation between a juvenile and his parent or guardian does not comply with the concept of `meaningful' consultation." Appellee's Br. p. 8. Moreover, the State acknowledges that "[t]he police action in [this] case certainly violated the spirit of the statute." Appellee's Br. p. 8. Inasmuch as there is no dispute that Bryant never waived his rights, the statements as testified to by Detective Bauman should not have been admitted into evidence. Moreo...

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