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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. This law is troubling in two respects: First, why wasn't the law reviewed "with the intention of getting all the facts surrounding the legislation and its actual impact on the marketplace" BEFORE it was passed and signed? Seems a bit backwards to me (even acknowledging that this is the Indiana state legislature we're talking about. Second, what is it with the laws in this state that seem to create artificial monopolies in various industries? Besides this one, the other law that comes to mind is the legislation that governed the granting of licenses to firms that wanted to set up craft distilleries. The licensing was limited to only those entities that were already in the craft beer brewing business. Republicans in this state talk a big game when it comes to being "business friendly". They're friendly alright . . . to certain businesses.

  2. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  3. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

  4. "...not those committed in the heat of an argument." If I ever see a man physically abusing a woman or a child and I'm close enough to intercede I will not ask him why he is abusing her/him. I will give him a split second to cease his attack and put his hands in the air while I call the police. If he continues, I will still call the police but to report, "Man down with a gunshot wound,"instead.

  5. And so the therapeutic state is weaonized. How soon until those with ideologies opposing the elite are disarmed in the name of mental health? If it can start anywhere it can start in the hoosiers' slavishly politically correct capital city.

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