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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. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  2. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  3. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  4. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

  5. I'm not sure what's more depressing: the fact that people would pay $35,000 per year to attend an unaccredited law school, or the fact that the same people "are hanging in there and willing to follow the dean’s lead in going forward" after the same school fails to gain accreditation, rendering their $70,000 and counting education worthless. Maybe it's a good thing these people can't sit for the bar.

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