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Explanation as to the spirit of the law was harmless error

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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.”



 
 

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  1. He did not have an "unlicensed handgun" in his pocket. Firearms are not licensed in Indiana. He apparently possessed a handgun without a license to carry, but it's not the handgun that is licensed (or registered).

  2. Once again, Indiana's legislature proves how friendly it is to monopolies. This latest bill by Hershman demonstrates the lengths Indiana's representatives are willing to go to put big business's (especially utilities') interests above those of everyday working people. Maassal argues that if the technology (solar) is so good, it will be able to compete on its own. Too bad he doesn't feel the same way about the industries he represents. Instead, he wants to cut the small credit consumers get for using solar in order to "add a 'level of certainty'" to his industry. I haven't heard of or seen such a blatant money-grab by an industry since the days when our federal, state, and local governments were run by the railroad. Senator Hershman's constituents should remember this bill the next time he runs for office, and they should penalize him accordingly.

  3. From his recent appearance on WRTV to this story here, Frank is everywhere. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy, although he should stop using Eric Schnauffer for his 7th Circuit briefs. They're not THAT hard.

  4. They learn our language prior to coming here. My grandparents who came over on the boat, had to learn English and become familiarize with Americas customs and culture. They are in our land now, speak ENGLISH!!

  5. @ Rebecca D Fell, I am very sorry for your loss. I think it gives the family solace and a bit of closure to go to a road side memorial. Those that oppose them probably did not experience the loss of a child or a loved one.

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