Personal entry on MySpace admitted into evidence in Indiana murder case
By Kassity Liu – Edited by Stephanie Weiner
Clark v. State, No. 43C01-0705-FA-127 (Ind. Oct. 15, 2009).
On October 15, the Supreme Court of Indiana affirmed a murder conviction and sentence, rejecting the defendant’s claims on appeal, including an argument that the trial court improperly admitted as character evidence an entry he made online on his MySpace page. The defendant claimed the admission was in violation of the Indiana Rules of Evidence.
Internet Cases and the WSJ Law Blog provide an overview of the case. Evidence Prof Blog criticizes the court’s reasoning on the MySpace entry issue, noting that the evidence was likely admitted in violation of Indiana Rule of Evidence 404(a), not considered by the court.
The trial jury found Ian J. Clark guilty of murdering his then fiancée’s two-year-old daughter. Matara Muchowicz left her two-year-old daughter with Clark on May 25, 2007; she returned home from work to find her daughter severely beaten and not breathing. Clark was taken into custody, proclaiming to a detective that he would “beat this” because it was “only a C felony.” The jury recommended a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
On appeal, Clark argued that the trial court had erred by admitting into evidence a posting he had made on his MySpace page. Clark claimed that the posting was improper under Indiana Rule of Evidence 404(b), which provides that evidence from other “crimes, wrongs, or acts is not admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show action in conformity therewith.” The Supreme Court concluded that the evidence was properly admitted. The court found that Rule 404(b) was not implicated because the evidence was of Clark’s own statements rather than his prior actions. Furthermore, the court found that the State had used the posting to rebut Clark’s defense that he was acting recklessly, not intentionally, the day he had killed the two-year-old girl. Clark, by making his character a central issue at trial, had invited the State to use his own words to disprove his defense. The Court further found the MySpace entry to be probative evidence of Clark’s character and state of mind, particularly when considered in conjunction with Clark’s statements to his arresting officers.
The court also rejected as unfounded Clark’s claim that the prosecution had committed misconduct in questioning him about his involvement with a gang, as well as his claim that fundamental errors during the trial court proceedings required reversal. The court determined that none of the alleged errors constituted a fundamental error, or “an error that makes a fair trial impossible or constitutes clearly blatant violations of basic and elementary principles of due process presenting an undeniable and substantial potential for harm.”
Clark is one of several recent cases to consider the admissibility of MySpace entries in criminal trials, with courts reaching differing outcomes based on various grounds. The issue seems likely to continue to arise in the future – the National Law Journal notes that law enforcement authorities have increasingly sought to introduce such evidence in recent years, and that courts have tended to admit it.