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COA divided on whether 'bully' comments require new trial

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The Indiana Court of Appeals split in affirming a man’s drunk-driving conviction, with the dissenting judge finding the prosecutor’s questions to the jury and repeated reference to the defendant as a bully at trial made a fair trial impossible.

In Martin Roy Emerson v. State of Indiana, No. 07A01-1009-CR-486, Martin Emerson appealed his convictions of Class C misdemeanor operating a vehicle while intoxicated and Class C felony operating a vehicle while driving privileges are forfeited for life. A Nashville police officer clocked a van going more than 40 mph over the speed limit. She saw a man driving the van, and when she tried to pull the car over, the driver pulled into a driveway. As she came upon the vehicle, she saw the man sitting in the passenger seat and a woman getting into the car through the driver’s side door. That woman, Sophia Morgan, told the officer that the man, Emerson, was driving and made her switch seats. Emerson screamed at the officer and wasn’t compliant with her commands, so he was eventually handcuffed. Emerson smelled of alcohol. He later admitted at jail he had been drinking.

The Court of Appeals affirmed his felony conviction of operating a vehicle while driving privileges are forfeited for life. But the judges disagreed as to whether the prosecutor’s comments during voir dire and opening and closing statements regarding bullies was a fundamental error requiring a new trial. Emerson didn’t object to the statements during trial.

During voir dire, the prosecutor asked prospective jurors questions such as if they would do something just because a bully told them to, and if they would believe a statement was true just because a bully said it. During opening and closing arguments, the prosecutor made comments like Emerson “tried to bully his way out of it” and the jurors should “stand up to this bully and tell him that he committed a crime with a verdict of guilty.”

Judges Cale Bradford and Nancy Vaidik didn’t believe the prosecutor’s improper, but fleeting, request that the jury stand up to the defendant made it impossible for Emerson to receive a fair trial. They also found the prosecutor’s comments were relevant to the case and were clear that the statements amounted to nothing more than his opinion.

Senior Judge Betty Barteau disagreed, finding the statements taken as a whole conditioned the jury to conclude that Emerson was a person of poor character and encouraged the jury to stand up to him and find him guilty because of perceived character flaws rather than because he committed the offense at issue.

She would reverse his OWI conviction and recommend he be retried. She would allow his conviction for operating a vehicle while driving privileges are forfeited for life to stand because the trial court provided new preliminary and final jury instructions for that phase of the trial and the state did not characterize Emerson as a bully during that portion of the trial.

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  1. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

  5. Have been seeing this wonderful physician for a few years and was one of his patients who told him about what we were being told at CVS. Multiple ones. This was a witch hunt and they shold be ashamed of how patients were treated. Most of all, CVS should be ashamed for what they put this physician through. So thankful he fought back. His office is no "pill mill'. He does drug testing multiple times a year and sees patients a minimum of four times a year.

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