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COA split on impact of jury instruction omission

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One Indiana Court of Appeals judge dissented from his colleagues' decision to grant a new trial based on the lack of a jury instruction on robbery because he didn't think the defendant was prejudiced by the omission.

"The question is not whether error occurred, but whether there exists a reasonable probability that he would have been acquitted had it not occurred," wrote Judge Cale Bradford in his dissent in Kevin Taylor v. State of Indiana, No. 20A04-0909-PC-511. "I think (Kevin) Taylor has fallen far short of carrying his burden on this point."

Judge Bradford found the error to be harmless because the conviction was clearly sustained by the evidence and the jury couldn't have properly found otherwise. He also held Taylor failed to show he received ineffective assistance from his appellate counsel.

Taylor and two other defendants were charged with felony murder during a robbery, tried together, and convicted. Taylor appealed, and his conviction was affirmed. Defendant Kelly Scott Thomas had his conviction overturned on direct appeal because the court didn't instruct the jury on the elements of robbery. Taylor then filed for post-conviction relief, claiming ineffective assistance of trial counsel because of his attorney's failure to object to the final instructions, which didn't instruct on the elements of robbery. His petition was denied; the appellate court remanded for a new hearing. The post-conviction court again denied his petition.

The appellate judges concluded that Taylor met his burden of showing the post-conviction court erred by ruling his counsel hadn't performed deficiently. His trial counsel acknowledged his failure to object to the jury instruction was an oversight. But they split when deciding if Taylor was prejudiced by his trial counsel's performance.

"The harmless-error analysis proffered by the post-conviction court, the State, and the dissent presumes too much," wrote Judge Edward Najam for the majority. "It is the province of the jury to decide Taylor's guilt, but, having never been instructed on any of the elements of robbery, it is impossible to say whether the jury would have found Taylor guilty of robbery. A jury cannot be asked to find guilt without an instruction on the elements of the crime."

Harmless-error analysis has no place where an essential instruction on the underlying offense is entirely missing, he continued. The majority reversed the denial of Taylor's petition for post-conviction relief and remanded for a new trial.

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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