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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. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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