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COA split on impact of jury instruction omission

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One Indiana Court of Appeals judge dissented from his colleagues' decision to grant a new trial based on the lack of a jury instruction on robbery because he didn't think the defendant was prejudiced by the omission.

"The question is not whether error occurred, but whether there exists a reasonable probability that he would have been acquitted had it not occurred," wrote Judge Cale Bradford in his dissent in Kevin Taylor v. State of Indiana, No. 20A04-0909-PC-511. "I think (Kevin) Taylor has fallen far short of carrying his burden on this point."

Judge Bradford found the error to be harmless because the conviction was clearly sustained by the evidence and the jury couldn't have properly found otherwise. He also held Taylor failed to show he received ineffective assistance from his appellate counsel.

Taylor and two other defendants were charged with felony murder during a robbery, tried together, and convicted. Taylor appealed, and his conviction was affirmed. Defendant Kelly Scott Thomas had his conviction overturned on direct appeal because the court didn't instruct the jury on the elements of robbery. Taylor then filed for post-conviction relief, claiming ineffective assistance of trial counsel because of his attorney's failure to object to the final instructions, which didn't instruct on the elements of robbery. His petition was denied; the appellate court remanded for a new hearing. The post-conviction court again denied his petition.

The appellate judges concluded that Taylor met his burden of showing the post-conviction court erred by ruling his counsel hadn't performed deficiently. His trial counsel acknowledged his failure to object to the jury instruction was an oversight. But they split when deciding if Taylor was prejudiced by his trial counsel's performance.

"The harmless-error analysis proffered by the post-conviction court, the State, and the dissent presumes too much," wrote Judge Edward Najam for the majority. "It is the province of the jury to decide Taylor's guilt, but, having never been instructed on any of the elements of robbery, it is impossible to say whether the jury would have found Taylor guilty of robbery. A jury cannot be asked to find guilt without an instruction on the elements of the crime."

Harmless-error analysis has no place where an essential instruction on the underlying offense is entirely missing, he continued. The majority reversed the denial of Taylor's petition for post-conviction relief and remanded for a new trial.

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  1. For many years this young man was "family" being my cousin's son. Then he decided to ignore my existence and that of my daughter who was very hurt by his actions after growing up admiring, Jason. Glad he is doing well, as for his opinion, if you care so much you wouldn't ignore the feelings of those who cared so much about you for years, Jason.

  2. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  3. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  4. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  5. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

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