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SCOTUS declines to take Indiana criminal case

March 26, 2012

The nation’s highest court won’t take a case asking whether a defendant’s second trial was barred by the double jeopardy clause of the Fifth Amendment, meaning that an Indiana Supreme Court decision on the issue will stand.

In an order list released Monday, the Supreme Court of the United States decided against taking the case of Nathan Brock v. State of Indiana, No. 11-8436, challenging a decision by the state justices last year.

In that Oct. 18 ruling, the justices found that although the defendant didn’t consent to a mistrial, Jay Superior Judge Max Ludy Jr. didn’t abuse his discretion in finding that a mistrial was justified by “manifest necessity.”

Nathan Brock appealed his conviction of Class C felony operating a motor vehicle after forfeiture of driving privileges for life. He was charged with violating Indiana Code 9-30-10-17, and during trial his defense counsel made several improper statements to the jury — including insinuating that redacted material in Brock’s driving record may have been beneficial to Brock. The state moved for a mistrial, but the court denied it and ordered that evidence would be reopened. After a short recess, Ludy decided to grant the request for a mistrial and discharged the jury. Brock filed a motion to dismiss on double jeopardy grounds just before his second trial was to begin. The trial court denied that motion and he was convicted. The Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed, finding Brock waived his right to claim double jeopardy because he didn’t timely object to the state’s motion for a mistrial, and manifest necessity justified the judge’s decision.

In its decision, Justice Frank Sullivan wrote that Brock did not consent to the trial judge’s declaration of a mistrial. The court adopted the approach taken by the federal appellate courts which have held that a defendant consents to a mistrial when he or she has an opportunity to object and fails to do so. These courts have also recognized that sometimes there is no opportunity to object and to prohibit a defendant from raising a double jeopardy claim under these circumstances would be too harsh, Sullivan wrote.

Brock’s attorney, Dale Arnett in Winchester, filed a petition for certiorari in October and this denial means the state ruling is the final word unless a rehearing request is filed with the SCOTUS.

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