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Court: stipulation can be in preliminary jury instructions

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Even though a defendant waived his argument for appeal that a stipulation may not be placed before a jury via preliminary jury instructions, the Indiana Court of Appeals held the opposite today in a case involving a conviction of unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon.

Fabian Morgan was convicted of the Class B felony and sentenced to 15 years. He argued there wasn’t enough evidence to prove he qualified as a serious violent felon. The state had to prove that he had been convicted of an offense listed in Indiana Code Ann. Section 35-47-4-5. Before trial, it appears based on the record that the parties had stipulated to the element of I.C. Section 35-47-4-5 that Morgan was previously convicted of a felony at the time he possessed the gun in the instant case, wrote Judge Ezra Friedlander.

The stipulation wasn’t introduced at trial and not included in the materials submitted in conjunction with the appeal, so Morgan claimed there was insufficient evidence to prove he was a serious violent felon. He waived this argument by not objecting to the jury instructions.

In Fabian Morgan v. State of Indiana, No. 49A04-1001-CR-43, the appellate court couldn’t find any authority for Morgan’s argument that a stipulation can’t be placed before a jury through preliminary jury instructions. The judges relied on Hardister v. State, 849 N.E.2d 563 (Ind. 2006), in which the Indiana Supreme Court ruled otherwise, to conclude that a stipulation may be presented before a jury in the form of a preliminary instruction. It may be challenged by a defendant who preserves the issue for appellate review, noted Judge Friedlander.

The judges also found the trial court didn’t commit fundamental error when it admonished the jury to disregard remarks made by Morgan’s attorney during final arguments that the court characterized as “misleading” and “not the evidence presented.” Morgan didn’t object to any of the trial court’s comments, and couldn’t show fundamental error occurred. The record shows the attorney did misstate the evidence.

The judges also upheld the 15-year sentence.
 

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