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Court divided over consent to 5-person jury

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A panel of Indiana Court of Appeals judges split on the issue of whether a defendant agreed to allow a five-member jury to decide her case after one juror fell ill, with the dissenting judge believing the defendant – not her counsel – must consent to the five-person jury.

Robbie Bex was charged with Class A misdemeanor operating while intoxicated endangering a person following a car accident as she attempted to leave her employer’s parking lot after work. Six jurors were seated for her trial without an alternative chosen. During trial, one juror had a medical emergency, and the case proceeded to verdict with only five members. Counsel previously had consented to this, but later moved for a mistrial. Bex was convicted and ordered to 360 days in jail with 350 days suspended to probation and 80 hours of public restitution work.

In Robbie J. Bex v. State of Indiana, No. 53A01-1008-CR-422, Bex claimed her constitutional right to a trial by jury was violated since only five jurors determined her guilt. The appellate court decided that under the Sixth Amendment, a defendant may waive his or her statutory right to a six-person jury trial and agree to be tried by a jury of five members. Bex had a statutory right to a six-person jury and was able to decline the service of a panel made up of less than six members, wrote Judge James Kirsch. She also knew that no alternative juror was selected so there could be a possibility that only five people would decide her case.

“We agree with the reasoning of the Florida Supreme Court that, based upon a defendant’s right to waive the presence of an entire jury, it would be inconsistent to hold that a defendant could not waive the presence of one juror,” wrote Judge Kirsch. “Therefore, we conclude that there is no federal constitutional bar to a defendant’s waiver of the presence and participation of one of the six jurors in a criminal trial.”

The majority found a defendant can consent to a trial by fewer jurors than assured to her by statute and that decision is one of trial procedure. A defendant who consents to representation by counsel consents to his or her counsel’s decision on trial strategy. Bex didn’t object to her attorney’s agreement to proceed without an alternative juror or with the five-member panel, so she is bound by those decisions, wrote the judge.

Senior Judge Patrick Sullivan dissented on this point, believing Bex herself had to waive her right, not her attorney. He said based on the record, it appeared Bex was present in the courtroom during the attorneys’ sidebar with the trial judge regarding the number of jurors, but she was not a party to it. There’s a possibility she wasn’t privy to her counsel’s stipulation of waiver of her right because she wasn’t present in the courtroom in order to have the opportunity to object, he wrote. Based on this, her conviction should be reversed.

The majority also concluded the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion by imposing a public defender fee as a condition of probation without first holding a hearing on Bex’s ability to pay because the fees were not due until after she completed the executed portion of her sentence. The majority also affirmed the order that she complete 80 hours of public restitution.  
 

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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