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Judge did not modify jury instructions

August 21, 2012

A Lawrence County man was unable to prove to the Court of Appeals that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion for a mistrial. He argued the judge modified the jury instructions when he answered a question from the jury in mid-deliberations.

Jason Fields was charged with two counts of Class B felony dealing in methamphetamine. He purchased the drug from a confidential informant of the Bedford Police Department for his roommate. During jury deliberations at Fields’ trial, the jury submitted a question to Lawrence Superior Judge William Sleva asking for clarification of final instruction 11. The jury wanted to know whether the second part of the instruction required the state to prove both the first and second parts of the instruction, or just one part. That instruction laid out that the state must have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Fields’ conduct wasn’t the product of a law enforcement agent using persuasion or other means to cause Fields to engage in the conduct, or that Fields was predisposed to commit the offense.

Sleva told the jury the second part of the instruction is not both, it’s an “either/or.” That’s when Fields moved for a mistrial, which Sleva denied. He was convicted of both counts.

Fields argued on appeal that the trial court erred when it answered the jury question submitted after deliberations began, thereby “modifying” the final jury instructions. The Court of Appeals disagreed, citing Taylor v. State, 677 N.E.2d 56 (Ind. Ct. Ap. 1997), in support.

As in Taylor, Sleva merely answered the jury’s question of law arising out of the case and followed the procedure set out in Indiana Code 34-36-1-6 by calling the jury back to open court and answering the questions in the presence of counsel, Judge Edward Najam wrote. The trial court was not required to reread the final instructions in their entirety.

 

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