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Justices clarify jury taint, mistrial standards

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Because the Indiana Court of Appeals cited three different mistrial standards in a man’s appeal of the denial of his motion for a mistrial, the Indiana Supreme Court took his case to clarify its precedent for trial courts to use to determine whether a mistrial is a cure for a jury taint.

Five days into Ernesto Ramirez’s murder and criminal gang activity trial, Juror 282 informed the court about a shooting at her home the night before. The juror said her neighbor heard gun shots in the apartment above her and “told them I was a jury member in a case.” She also told other jurors about the incident. She was removed from the jury, but the trial court denied Ramirez’s motion for a mistrial. The judge found the jury could remain impartial.

“Federal and Indiana precedent has narrowed the presumption of prejudice to apply in cases where the defendants show more than just potential taint – but some Indiana precedent, including our own, has applied that presumption inconsistently,” Justice Loretta Rush wrote in Ernesto Roberto Ramirez v. State of Indiana, 45S05-1305-CR-331. “We now clarify its precise scope, and reiterate the proper process for trial courts to address jury taint in the courtroom. We hold that no presumption applies in Ramirez’s case, and that the trial court’s approach in addressing his allegation of jury taint was correct.”

Rush pointed to previous cases in which Indiana courts have cited the presumption of prejudice but didn’t follow it. One court even concluded that the presumption of prejudice no longer existed in Indiana. But the presumption of prejudice does remain under Remmer v. United States, 347 U.S. 227, 229 (1954), and Indiana Supreme Court precedent.

“Trial courts should apply the presumption of prejudice analysis of Currin (v. State) in the context of the procedures we established in Lindsey (v. State),” Rush wrote. “Trial courts must immediately investigate suspected jury taint by thoroughly interviewing jurors collectively and individually, if necessary.

“Once defendants move for mistrial, the trial courts should assess whether or not there is enough evidence to meet the two-part showing under Currin. If so, then the presumption of prejudice applies and the burden shifts to the State to prove harmless error. If not, then the trial courts should determine whether a juror’s misconduct was gross or probably harmed the defendant.”  

Ramirez failed to show that Juror 282’s apartment incident was related to his case. She was not even sure if her status as a juror trigged the apartment shooting. Her own narration strongly suggests that no one even entered her apartment. The justices affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision to uphold Ramirez’s sentence.

Justice Mark Massa concurred in result, writing that the majority attempted to create order by carving out a new analytical framework and questioning one of the high court’s prior decisions: Griffin v. State, 754 N.E.2d 899, (Ind. 2001). He believes the justices can synthesize the three seminal federal decisions on this issue – Remmer, Smith v. Phillips, 455 U.S. 209 (1982), and United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725 (1993), and articulate a reasonable rule without “doing violence to our precedent.”
 

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  1. Major social engineering imposed by judicial order well in advance of democratic change, has been the story of the whole post ww2 period. Contraception, desegregation, abortion, gay marriage: all rammed down the throats of Americans who didn't vote to change existing laws on any such thing, by the unelected lifetime tenure Supreme court heirarchs. Maybe people came to accept those things once imposed upon them, but, that's accommodation not acceptance; and surely not democracy. So let's quit lying to the kids telling them this is a democracy. Some sort of oligarchy, but no democracy that's for sure, and it never was. A bourgeois republic from day one.

  2. JD Massur, yes, brings to mind a similar stand at a Texas Mission in 1836. Or Vladivostok in 1918. As you seemingly gloat, to the victors go the spoils ... let the looting begin, right?

  3. I always wondered why high fence deer hunting was frowned upon? I guess you need to keep the population steady. If you don't, no one can enjoy hunting! Thanks for the post! Fence

  4. Whether you support "gay marriage" or not is not the issue. The issue is whether the SCOTUS can extract from an unmentionable somewhere the notion that the Constitution forbids government "interference" in the "right" to marry. Just imagine time-traveling to Philadelphia in 1787. Ask James Madison if the document he and his fellows just wrote allowed him- or forbade government to "interfere" with- his "right" to marry George Washington? He would have immediately- and justly- summoned the Sergeant-at-Arms to throw your sorry self out into the street. Far from being a day of liberation, this is a day of capitulation by the Rule of Law to the Rule of What's Happening Now.

  5. With today's ruling, AG Zoeller's arguments in the cases of Obamacare and Same-sex Marriage can be relegated to the ash heap of history. 0-fer

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