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Court clarifies decision on jury instructions

May 13, 2013

The Indiana Court of Appeals granted the state’s request for rehearing on a case in which the judges found the trial court erred in not giving a defendant’s tendered jury instruction, but that the error was harmless. The state contended that two cases dictated that there was no error by the court.

A panel of the Court of Appeals affirmed Joseph Matheny’s conviction of Class D felony auto theft, but in doing so, concluded the trial court erred in refusing his tendered jury instruction regarding the jury’s duty to conform the evidence to the presumption that a defendant is innocent. But when looking at the totality of the circumstances, the judges originally held the error was harmless.

On rehearing in Joseph Matheny v. State of Indiana, 49A04-1207-CR-347, the state argued that the COA’s previous ruling conflicts with Santiago v. State and Albores v. State, which were decided by the appellate court in March and April 2013, respectively. In those decisions, the judges found that the concept that the jury should attempt to fit the evidence to the presumption that the accused is innocent was adequately covered by the trial court’s instructions. Those decisions also distinguished Lee v. State, 964 N.E.2d 859 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012), in which jury instructions were not as detailed and the jury was not instructed that the presumption of innocence prevails throughout trial.

“As in Lee, the jury in this case was not instructed that the presumption of innocence prevails throughout the trial. Accordingly, we reach a different conclusion than Santiago and Albores because the instructions that the trial court gave the jury did not adequately convey the substance of Matheny’s tendered instruction,” Judge Terry Crone wrote Monday.

“In this case, such an instruction was requested, refused, and not adequately covered by the given instructions, and therefore the trial court abused its discretion.”

The appellate panel also denied the state’s claim that it used a “magic words” approach in its original decision and failed to consider the entirety of the jury instructions given at trial. Crone wrote that the state’s argument simply ignores the fact that the instructions in Matheny were different from those given in Santiago and Albores.

 

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