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COA: Man wasn't denied fair trial by judge

October 14, 2011

The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a man’s attempted murder conviction, finding the trial judge did not act in a way to deny the defendant a fair trial.

Cedric Tharpe was convicted of Class A felony attempted murder after he shot at a police officer. The officer heard shots fired, saw Tharpe running and asked him to stop. Tharpe looked at the officer for a few seconds, then began firing at him with an AK-47. The officer was not seriously hurt.

Tharpe argued on appeal in Cedric Tharpe v. State of Indiana, No. 49A04-1101-CR-24, that Marion Superior Judge Lisa Borges’ behavior and rulings at his trial denied him the right to a fair and unbiased judge. He claimed comments Borges made during voir dire, her sustaining of certain state motions, and her facial expressions – including rolling her eyes – during the trial denied him the right to a fair trial.

“Tharpe has alleged only legally-correct adverse rulings, a single incidence of sarcasm, and inappropriate facial expressions,” wrote Judge Melissa May. “Adverse rulings, without more, do not amount to fundamental error, and the trial court admonished the jury to disregard any facial expressions made by the judge. Tharpe has not demonstrated he was denied a fair trial."

The appellate court also disagreed with Tharpe’s claim that the denial of his motion for a continuance was an abuse of discretion. Tharpe argued the denial further demonstrated the court’s impartiality and prejudiced his defense because the attorney didn’t have enough time to prepare. But by the time Tharpe’s case went to trial, he was on his fourth attorney and the trial had been continued several times. His trial attorney claimed she didn’t receive his case file until Sept. 1, 2010, and the trial was to be held Nov. 22, 2010. Citing previous caselaw, the judges found the attorney had adequate time to prepare for the trial.

The COA also found there was sufficient evidence to support Tharpe’s attempted murder conviction.

 

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