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Justices address forum-shopping

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The Indiana Supreme Court has clarified that a defendant who claims forum-shopping has happened in a criminal case does not need to establish prejudice in order to prevail on appeal. While the justices found no violation occurred in Jesse J. Harris, Jr. v. State of Indiana, No. 34S02-1203-CR-169, and affirmed the trial court ruling, the court has asked Howard County judges to review a local rule.

The case involves a murder in April 2008, when Jesse J. Harris, Jr. and two others left a strip club in Kokomo and followed a white Monte Carlo. They shot one man and two underage girls, and one of those girls was killed. A jury convicted Harris and the court sentenced him to the maximum 165 years for three counts combined.

The Court of Appeals affirmed last year, and in granting transfer the Supreme Court summarily affirmed the COA’s decision on all but one issue. The claim involving the state’s violation of a case-filing rule is what the justices have now clarified.

On appeal, Harris argued that the only reason his trial occurred in Howard Superior 1 was because the prosecutors engaged in forum-shopping. The Howard Circuit and Superior courts adopted a rule providing for a weekly rotation among the Circuit, Superior II and Superior IV judges – requiring a prosecutor to file felony charges in the court designated by the weekly rotation based on when the offense occurred. An exception says that when a defendant already faces an earlier criminal charge in a court not on rotation, the prosecutor must file the felony charges in that court. In this case, Harris already had a pending criminal charge in Howard Superior 1.

The Court of Appeals found that Harris could not show he had suffered any prejudice and declined to address the merits of the claim, but the justices disagreed with that.

“We think that requiring a defendant to establish prejudice sets the bar too high and therefore hold that a defendant need not do so to win a reversal,” Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote.

Harris argued that the “another charge pending” exception doesn’t apply because the first charge had already been resolved by the time the second charged was filed.

“Although Harris’s interpretation of Local Rule 29 has some force, the trial court’s reading of its own rule, approved here through the standard process, is a plausible one entitled to some deference on appeal,” Shepard wrote. “We are thus inclined to accept its interpretation and conclude that no violation occurred. Still, the shades of grey in Local Rule 29 that led to this dispute need sharpening up. We will therefore ask the judges in Howard County to draft amendments sufficient to prevent a recurrence.”





 

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  1. I will be filing a lawsuit in Tippecanoe County for so many violations in a case we became involved in, including failure to contact through mail, Violation of 4th Amendment rights, Violation of Civil Rights, and so on. Even the Indiana Ombudsmen Bureau found violations and I have now received the report and they are demanding further training in Tippecanoe County. I am going to make sure they follow through!!!

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  3. I thought the purpose of the criminal justice center was to consolidate all the criminal services and get them out of downtown to clean up the place. Why in the HELL are the civil courts moving? What a burden to all the downtown law firms. Now we all get to work downtown, but then have to get in a car and COMMUTE to court? Who approved this idiocy?

  4. I drive through the neighborhood whenever I go to the City-County Building or the Federal Courthouse. The surrounding streets are all two way with only two lanes of traffic, and traffic is very slow during rush hour. I hope that enough money has been allocated to allow for improvement of the surrounding streets.

  5. I have had an ongoing custody case for 6 yrs. I should have been the sole legal custodial parent but was a victim of a vindictive ex and the system biasedly supported him. He is an alcoholic and doesn't even have a license for two yrs now after his 2nd DUI. Fast frwd 6 yrs later my kids are suffering poor nutritional health, psychological issues, failing in school, have NO MD and the GAL could care less, DCS doesn't care. The child isn't getting his ADHD med he needs and will not succeed in life living this way. NO one will HELP our family.I tried for over 6 yrs. The judge called me an idiot for not knowing how to enter evidence and the last hearing was 8 mths ago. That in itself is unjust! The kids want to be with their Mother! They are being alienated from her and fed lies by their Father! I was hit in a car accident 3 yrs ago and am declared handicapped myself. Poor poor way to treat the indigent in Indiana!

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