Berkman v. Vanihel, No. 21-1567 (7th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
Berkman killed his drug supplier. An Indiana jury acquitted Berkman on a first-degree murder charge, but could not reach a verdict related to felony murder. At a second trial, a key prosecution witness, Timmerman, was declared unavailable due to illness; her testimony from the first trial was read into the record. Berkman appealed his subsequent conviction, challenging the admission of Timmerman’s testimony. The Court of Appeals of Indiana determined that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting the evidence given that Timmerman was unavailable and that Berkman had had an opportunity to cross-examine her at the first trial. The Indiana Supreme Court denied transfer.
Berkman filed a pro se federal habeas petition in which he maintained that the introduction of Timmerman’s testimony violated his Sixth Amendment right to confront witnesses. The Seventh Circuit upheld the denial of relief. The Court of Appeals of Indiana did not unreasonably apply the Supreme Court’s “Crawford” decision. Timmerman initially was unavailable because she was hospitalized following a sudden illness. The trial court postponed the trial for several days; there is no Supreme Court precedent that required the court to reevaluate Timmerman’s condition after the early-lunch recess to determine whether her condition had improved so that she was able to testify.