Court: Court of Appeals of Indiana
Case Name: Johnston v. State
Citation: 69 N.E.3d 507
In this case involving Level 6 stalking, an expert sergeant was appointed by the state to examine and statistically analyze the social media records involved in the case. The defendant moved to exclude the expert’s testimony on the basis that he was not qualified to opine on statistics. Ultimately, however, the court denied the motion to exclude the testimony. The court deemed that the state and the expert both made it clear when qualifying the expert that he was a digital forensics expert conducting a statistical analysis of social media posts, not a statistics expert.
Appellant-defendant Johnston engaged in long-term stalking of victim, D.K. The stalking included, but was not limited to, phone calls, texts, and social media messages. The defendant stalked the victim over a period of three years. D.K. had requested that all contact cease on several occasions, but the defendant refused to acquiesce. D.K. eventually obtained a protective order against the defendant.
A year later, Johnston was arrested after entering D.K.’s home. Upon arrest, the defendant claimed he was unaware of the protective order. Less than one month later, the defendant returned to D.K.’s home. D.K. called the police, but they were unable to locate the defendant. Johnston returned to D.K.’s home again the next day and was promptly arrested by law enforcement.
The state charged Johnston with Levels 5 and 6 felony stalking for multiple visits to D.K.’s home. The defendant was also charged with Class A misdemeanor invasion of privacy. The State later amended these charges to add another two counts of Levels 5 and 6 felony stalking for texts and social media messages the defendant sent.
The State presented an expert sergeant from the IMPD Computer and Digital Forensic Unit to testify as an expert in forensic and statistical analysis of the social media records and digital trails involved in the case.
By way of background, the sergeant expert testified that he trained with the Secret Service on internet investigations and that he had been trained under the commander of the Indiana State Police cyber crimes unit. The expert also had online training through the Internet Crimes Against Children. The expert gave extensive examples of the work that he had done with social media accounts. The sergeant had compiled social media information and conducted formal analyses regarding the identification of social media users.
The defendant asserted that the expert sergeant was not qualified to opine as an expert witness and that the trial court abused its discretion in qualifying him. The defendant further claimed that the expert witness did not have the requisite training in statistics to form a valid opinion about the probability of an event.
The court found that the state did not present the expert witness as an expert in statistics. Rather, the sergeant was qualified as an expert in the forensic analysis of social media records and digital trails.
Thus, the court held that it did not abuse its discretion in qualifying the sergeant as an expert capable of helping the court understand the evidence regarding internet technology and social media. The defendant’s motion to exclude the expert was denied.