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Justices question prosecutor’s tactics, but decline to award new trial

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The Indiana Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that while a Marion County prosecutor committed one instance of prosecutorial misconduct during a man’s trial for sexual misconduct with a minor, the effect of this misconduct did not make a fair trial for the defendant impossible.

“We recognize only a single instance of prosecutorial misconduct, namely that the prosecutor improperly urged the jury to convict the defendant for reasons other than his own guilt. But we decline to conclude that the trial court erred by not correcting the prosecutor’s misstatements,” Chief Justice Brent Dickson wrote in Bruce Ryan v. State of Indiana, 49S02-1311-CR-734.

The justices found no prosecutorial misconduct when the prosecutor commented on Ryan’s constitutional rights to a jury trial or on the truthfulness of the victim.

Bruce Ryan, an eight-grade science teacher, was charged with three counts of Class C felony sexual misconduct with a minor after he had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old student. He was convicted on two counts, and on appeal, argued the convictions should be overturned due to remarks made by the deputy prosecutor during closing arguments.

The prosecutor alluded to “the bigger picture,” mentioned other perpetrators such as a teacher or pastor, and then implored the jury to “send the message that we’re not going to allow people to do this.”

“This clearly invited the jury to convict this defendant for reasons other than his own guilt, therefore constituting improper conduct,” Dickson wrote.

But Ryan’s failure to contemporaneously object and enable the trial court to take correct action resulted in procedural default of his appellate claim. The high court found no fundamental error occurred, requiring reversal of his convictions.

“Without question, the characterization of defense counsel’s line of argumentation as ‘how guilty people walk’ and a ‘trick,’ is inconsistent with the requirement that lawyers ‘demonstrate respect for the legal system and those who serve it, including … other lawyers,’” Dickson wrote. “But the defendant has failed to establish that, under all of the circumstances, such improper comments placed him in a position of grave peril to which he would not have been subjected to otherwise.”

“While we do not endorse the prosecutor’s trial tactics in this case, we affirm the judgment of the trial court,” Dickson wrote.

Justice Robert Rucker concurred in result without a separate opinion.  
 

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  1. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  2. If the end result is to simply record the spoke word, then perhaps some day digital recording may eventually be the status quo. However, it is a shallow view to believe the professional court reporter's function is to simply report the spoken word and nothing else. There are many aspects to being a professional court reporter, and many aspects involved in producing a professional and accurate transcript. A properly trained professional steno court reporter has achieved a skill set in a field where the average dropout rate in court reporting schools across the nation is 80% due to the difficulty of mastering the necessary skills. To name just a few "extras" that a court reporter with proper training brings into a courtroom or a deposition suite; an understanding of legal procedure, technology specific to the legal profession, and an understanding of what is being said by the attorneys and litigants (which makes a huge difference in the quality of the transcript). As to contracting, or anti-contracting the argument is simple. The court reporter as governed by our ethical standards is to be the independent, unbiased individual in a deposition or courtroom setting. When one has entered into a contract with any party, insurance carrier, etc., then that reporter is no longer unbiased. I have been a court reporter for over 30 years and I echo Mr. Richardson's remarks that I too am here to serve.

  3. A competitive bid process is ethical and appropriate especially when dealing with government agencies and large corporations, but an ethical line is crossed when court reporters in Pittsburgh start charging exorbitant fees on opposing counsel. This fee shifting isn't just financially biased, it undermines the entire justice system, giving advantages to those that can afford litigation the most. It makes no sense.

  4. "a ttention to detail is an asset for all lawyers." Well played, Indiana Lawyer. Well played.

  5. I have a appeals hearing for the renewal of my LPN licenses and I need an attorney, the ones I have spoke to so far want the money up front and I cant afford that. I was wondering if you could help me find one that takes payments or even a pro bono one. I live in Indiana just north of Indianapolis.

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