Snow v. State

Decision Date22 June 2017
Docket NumberNo. 45S03-1703-CR-169,45S03-1703-CR-169
Citation77 N.E.3d 173
Parties Summer SNOW, Appellant (Defendant), v. STATE of Indiana, Appellee (Plaintiff).
CourtIndiana Supreme Court

Attorneys for Appellant : P. Jeffrey Schlesinger, Office of the Public Defender, Crown Point, Mark A. Bates, Schererville, Indiana

Attorneys for Appellee : Curtis T. Hill, Jr., Attorney General of Indiana, Katherine M. Cooper, Andrew A. Kobe, Deputy Attorneys General, Indianapolis, Indiana

On Petition to Transfer from the Indiana Court of Appeals, No. 45A03-1605-CR-1175

Rush, Chief Justice.

Every crime has a story. But when that story is told at trial, each part must be admissible under Indiana's Rules of Evidence—simply being part of the story is not enough. We thus reiterate today our holding from over twenty years ago: res gestae —the common-law doctrine that made evidence admissible when it was part of a crime's story—is no more.

Here, Summer Snow carried a handgun as she battered Officer Terry Peck and resisted law enforcement. Though she was not charged with a firearm-related offense, the State introduced her gun into evidence at trial. Without res gestae as grounds for admission, our question becomes whether the gun is admissible under Indiana's Rules of Evidence. We hold that it is. The trial court acted within its discretion in finding the gun relevant to Snow's aggressive state of mind and in determining that the danger of unfair prejudice did not substantially outweigh that relevance. We affirm the trial court.

Facts and Procedural History

One November morning, before daybreak, Summer Snow was fighting with her boyfriend, Reginald Harris. She called the police twice during the fight, but cancelled each call before anyone responded. She eventually kicked Harris out of her house, and he took refuge in the driveway in the back seat of her car. Snow tried to kick him out of her car as well, calling the police for a third time when he refused to leave.

When Officer Terry Peck arrived, he asked Harris to step out of the car. Harris refused, so Peck tried to remove him—resulting in a scuffle where Harris pulled Peck into the car and hit him repeatedly. Snow then began shouting, disparaging Officer Peck and encouraging Harris to beat him up.

Officer Peck eventually handcuffed Harris and placed him in the back of a patrol car, but Snow continued screaming at both Peck and Harris. Peck asked for her identification and, when she refused to show it, cautioned her to stop shouting and go inside the house or else she would go to jail for disorderly conduct. He then heard the house door open and shut and assumed Snow had gone inside. But she soon stormed back out, resuming the stream of shouting.

After three more warnings, Snow screamed "I dare your b**** a** to arrest me." Officer Peck then tried to arrest her, but she tucked her hands under her sweatshirt. He managed to grab one of her wrists, leading her to punch him, hit his shoulders, and scratch his chin. As they continued to struggle, she jumped on him and began biting his shoulder close to his neck. Finally, Officer Peck restrained Snow and—as he handcuffed her—felt something hit his knee and boot and heard it land on the ground. As Officer Peck soon learned, that something was a gun.1

The State charged Snow with two counts of Level 5 felony battery against a public safety official, and one count each of Level 6 felony resisting law enforcement and Class B misdemeanor disorderly conduct. It charged Harris with Level 5 felony battery against a public safety official and Level 6 felony resisting law enforcement.2 Neither Harris nor Snow was charged with a gun-related offense.

Harris and Snow each filed a motion in limine to stop the State from referring to Snow's gun at trial. They argued that because Officer Peck learned about the gun only after arresting Snow, the State was merely speculating about the gun's relevance; therefore, the danger of unfair prejudice substantially outweighed any probative value under Indiana Rule of Evidence 403. The State responded that because Snow may have gone into the house to get the gun, it was relevant to show "some sort of aggression." The trial court agreed with the State that the gun was "significantly probative of the defendant's action" and her "aggressive manner," and held that "403 gives the balance in favor of the State" because the prejudice from the gun did not substantially outweigh that relevance.

At the ensuing joint jury trial, the same attorney represented both Snow and Harris. The State introduced the gun into evidence over Harris and Snow's objection, using it to argue that because Snow was carrying the gun, she—not Officer Peck—was the aggressor. And because Snow was not licensed to carry the gun, the State used it to cast doubt on her testimony that she had it to protect herself on a trip to the gas station. Snow responded that she was not carrying the gun that day, but left it in her car. Because of this argument, the trial court instructed the jury that "[a] person may carry a handgun without being licensed if the person carries [it] ... in or on property that is owned, leased, rented, or otherwise legally controlled by the person."

The jury found Snow guilty of one count of Level 5 felony battery against a public safety official and one count of Level 6 felony resisting law enforcement, and acquitted her of the other two counts. It found Harris guilty as charged. Both defendants appealed, now with separate attorneys, challenging the gun's admission at trial. The State responded that the gun was properly admitted "because it was inextricably linked to the charged crimes."

The Court of Appeals affirmed in a split decision. The majority found that the gun was admissible because it "explained the circumstances and context of the extended verbal and physical altercations between Snow and Officer Peck." Snow v. State , 65 N.E.3d 1129, 1134 (Ind. Ct. App. 2016) (emphasis added). Chief Judge Vaidik dissented, believing that the majority improperly affirmed under the long-defunct res gestae grounds for admissibility. Id. at 1136 (Vaidik, C.J., dissenting).

Snow petitioned for transfer, arguing that the Court of Appeals improperly relied on res gestae in admitting the gun. The State did not respond. We granted transfer, thus vacating the Court of Appeals opinion. Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A).

Standard of Review

The trial court admitted Snow's gun over her objection; we review this evidentiary ruling for an abuse of discretion. Zanders v. State , 73 N.E.3d 178, 181 (Ind. 2017). An abuse of discretion occurs when the ruling is clearly against the logic and effect of the facts and circumstances. Id.

A trial court's discretion is wide on issues of relevance and unfair prejudice. Hicks v. State , 690 N.E.2d 215, 220 (Ind. 1997) ; Dunlap v. State , 761 N.E.2d 837, 842 (Ind. 2002). In our review, we look to the totality of the circumstances and consider conflicting evidence in the light most favorable to the trial court's ruling. Griffith v. State , 788 N.E.2d 835, 839–40 (Ind. 2003).

Discussion and Decision

Res gestae —the common-law doctrine that made evidence admissible as part of a crime's story—did not survive the adoption of Indiana's Rules of Evidence in 1994. That is, res gestae is no longer a proper basis for admitting evidence; instead, admissibility is determined under Indiana's Rules of Evidence. Applying those rules, we affirm the trial court because admitting Snow's gun into evidence was within the court's discretion.

I. Res Gestae Did Not Survive the Adoption of Indiana's Rules of Evidence.

"Res gestae [was] a term regularly used in Indiana's common law of evidence to denote facts that are part of the story of a particular crime." Swanson v. State , 666 N.E.2d 397, 398 (Ind. 1996). When those facts completed the crime's story, they were admissible under the doctrine—even if they concerned uncharged misconduct. Id. ; Pitman v. State , 436 N.E.2d 74, 77 (Ind. 1982).

This res gestae standard made evidence admissible for over a century. See Gallaher v. State , 101 Ind. 411, 412 (1885) ("What is said and done by persons during the time they are engaged in a riot constitutes the res gestae , and it is, of course, competent to prove all that is said and done."). But as we held in Swanson , res gestae —an "imprecise concept" and "all too easy substitute for describing the legal relevance of a particular piece of evidence"—did not survive the 1994 adoption of our Evidence Rules. 666 N.E.2d at 397–98 ; see also Specht v. State , 734 N.E.2d 239, 240 (Ind. 2000) (recognizing that "the Rules of Evidence generally superseded previously existing common law"). Of course, "the great majority" of evidence formerly admitted as res gestae will continue to be admitted under the relevance provisions of Evidence Rules 401, 402, and 403. Swanson , 666 N.E.2d at 399 ; see also Escamilla v. Shiel Sexton Co. , 73 N.E.3d 663, 668 (Ind. 2017). It is now those rules—not res gestae —that decide evidence's relevance and admissibility. Put simply, res gestae is no more.

But the res gestae concept has crept back into Indiana law since Swanson . As Chief Judge Vaidik aptly illustrated in her dissent, Indiana courts have several times applied an "inextricably bound up" standard for evidence's admissibility. Sandifur v. State , 815 N.E.2d 1042, 1048 (Ind. Ct. App. 2004), trans. denied ; Willingham v. State , 794 N.E.2d 1110, 1116–17 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003) ; Cowan v. State , 783 N.E.2d 1270, 1275 (Ind. Ct. App. 2003), trans. denied ; Pope v. State , 740 N.E.2d 1247, 1250–51 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000) ; Sanders v. State , 724 N.E.2d 1127, 1131 (Ind. Ct. App. 2000) ; Utley v. State , 699 N.E.2d 723, 728–29 (Ind. Ct. App. 1998), trans. denied . And res gestae has made its mark on this case as well: the State argued on appeal that Snow's gun was "inextricably linked" to her crimes, and the Court of Appeals majority found that it was part of "the circumstances and context" of her fight with Officer Peck. Snow , 65 N.E.3d at...

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