Definitions and interpretations
• For definitions and interpretations of “weapon,” please review Weapon.
• For definitions and interpretations of “deadly weapon,” please review Deadly Weapon.
Examples of relevance and probative value
• [T]he knife was relevant since it connected the two burglaries with which [the defendant] was charged, and also showed how entry was gained to [a victim’s] home.
• The actual weapons used by a defendant and his accomplices in committing an armed robbery are unquestionably relevant, material, and admissible in the prosecution of a case such as this where being armed is an element of the charged offense. Being armed is a material fact which the weapon itself tends to prove.
• There was substantial evidence that the knife was probative of issues the State had the burden of proving at trial, including the identity of the murderer and the manner of the murder.
• The probative value of using a gun similar to the murder weapon to demonstrate how the murder weapon worked outweighed its potential for prejudice, where the murder weapon was not found, the defendant claimed that the shooting was accidental, and the trial court admonished the jury that the weapon was being displayed only to show what the murder weapon could look like.
See Dunlap v. State, 761 N.E.2d 837, 842 (Ind. 2002)(“The probative value of the exhibit on the issue of accident is sufficient to support the trial court's decision to admit the evidence, especially in light of the admonishment given.”)
• For more information about demonstrative evidence, please review Demonstrative Evidence.
• For more information about in-court demonstrations, please review Experiments and Demonstrations.
Chain of custody
• The State is required to show a chain of custody for the purpose of showing the unlikelihood of tampering, loss, substitution, or mistake.
• This rule is especially applicable to fungible goods which are difficult to identify. However, where an exhibit such as a weapon, which is readily identifiable, is in question, it may be admitted based on the testimony of a witness that it is recognized and in the same state that it had been at the time it was first seen by the witness.
See Mateo v. State, 981 N.E.2d 59, 67 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012), trans. denied(citing Trotter v. State, 559 N.E.2d 585, 591 (Ind. 1990))(“[F]or nonfungible items like guns and vehicles, the State need only show that the item is what it is purported to be and that it is in a substantially unchanged state.”)
• Because the knives are nonfungible items, the State only needed to show that they were the knives used in the incident and that they were in the same condition at trial as when they were found.
• For more information about establishing a proper chain of custody for weapons, please review Chain of Custody.
• It has been held that a weapon is admissible upon testimony that it has similar characteristics to the weapon observed by eye witnesses, and is found with other items also sharing characteristics with items observed at the crime scene.
• It is proper to admit a weapon into evidence when the victim testifies that it looks like the one used during the commission of a crime.
See, e.g., Smith v. State, 730 N.E.2d 705, 708-09 (Ind. 2000), reh’g denied(“The defendant testified that on the night he shot [the victim], he was carrying a 9mm TEK firearm. Other witnesses testified that the gun he carried at the time of the shooting was not a revolver but rather looked like a 9mm firearm. . . . [One witness] testified that the defendant carried a revolver, that [the defendant’s accomplice] carried a semi-automatic weapon, and that Exhibit 21 was similar to the revolver that the defendant had pointed at [the witness]. Although the revolver was not identified as the murder weapon, there was evidence that this revolver or one similar to it was in the possession of the two defendants near the time when they pursued [the victim]. The resulting relevance, although arguably marginal, is sufficient to support the trial court's decision to admit the evidence.”)
• Where accomplices identify the weapons used in the robbery, a sufficient foundation is laid.
• Evidence of weapons possessed by a defendant but not used in the crime for which the defendant is charged should generally not be introduced because the evidence is irrelevant and highly prejudicial.
See Hubbell v. State, 754 N.E.2d 884, 890 (Ind. 2001)(quoting Lycan v. State, 671 N.E.2d 447, 454 (Ind. Ct. App. 1996))( “‘As a general proposition, we agree that the introduction of weapons not used in the commission of the crime and not otherwise relevant to the case may have a prejudicial effect.’”)
E.g., Tynes v. State, 650 N.E.2d 685, 687 (Ind. 1995)(“We conclude that it was error to admit the unrelated weapon evidence. It did not tend to prove or disprove a material fact or shed any light on whether the defendant was guilty of murder. The weapons were not used in the charged crime, nor were they helpful to ‘complete the picture’ of the crime.”)
• Defendant . . . challenges the admission into evidence of State's Exhibit 23, the marshal's service revolver, which police officers, with defendant's assistance, recovered from a small lake where he had discarded it after the incident. Defendant argues the revolver should not have been admitted because officers who tested it cleaned and polished it, thereby changing its appearance. Defendant suggests that cleaning the revolver would have eliminated scratches caused when it was knocked away from the marshal and scraped along the pavement. The jury was informed the revolver was cleaned before it was tested, and there is no question the exhibit was the marshal's service revolver and was the murder weapon. Any alteration in the revolver's appearance was a matter of evidentiary weight, not admissibility.