ILNews

Explanation as to the spirit of the law was harmless error

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

Although a trial court’s words to a jury about the spirit of Indiana’s criminal law was improper and an error, it was harmless and could not overturn a defendant’s sentence of life without parole.

Michael Inman was convicted and sentenced for murder, murder while committing or attempting to commit the offense of robbery, robbery, and unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon after a jewelry store robbery that left the proprietor dead.

Inman appealed his conviction and sentence partly on the grounds that the judge’s instructions to the jury related to the murder while committing or attempting to commit the offense of robbery. The court told the jurors, “The spirit of our criminal law would not be fostered by a ruling that a defendant could not be convicted of robbing a man he had just killed.”

Inman argued the last sentence allowed the jury to convict him of robbery and felony murder even if all the elements of the robbery occurred before the store owner died.

The Indiana Supreme Court pointed out that while Inman had mischaracterized the law, he was correct about the last sentence. Instead of explaining the law to the jury, the Supreme Court found the trial court seemed to be making an argument for the state.

However, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence in Michael Inman v. State of Indiana, 49S00-1207-LW-376. It found the error was harmless because of the overwhelming evidence against the defendant. Also, it concluded that a “reasonable jury” would have returned a guilty verdict if the last sentence had not been given.

Justice Mark Massa concurred in result but found no error in the trial court’s instructions. The judge, in Massa’s opinion, was trying to avoid confusion for the jurors.

“…the judge quite correctly told the jury that you can’t avoid a robbery conviction by killing your victim before you take his property,” Massa wrote. “That is simple, to-the-point guidance for lay jurors and should be encouraged, no admonished.”



 
 

ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. A sad end to a prolific gadfly. Indiana has suffered a great loss in the journalistic realm.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

ADVERTISEMENT