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Explanation as to the spirit of the law was harmless error

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Although a trial court’s words to a jury about the spirit of Indiana’s criminal law was improper and an error, it was harmless and could not overturn a defendant’s sentence of life without parole.

Michael Inman was convicted and sentenced for murder, murder while committing or attempting to commit the offense of robbery, robbery, and unlawful possession of a firearm by a serious violent felon after a jewelry store robbery that left the proprietor dead.

Inman appealed his conviction and sentence partly on the grounds that the judge’s instructions to the jury related to the murder while committing or attempting to commit the offense of robbery. The court told the jurors, “The spirit of our criminal law would not be fostered by a ruling that a defendant could not be convicted of robbing a man he had just killed.”

Inman argued the last sentence allowed the jury to convict him of robbery and felony murder even if all the elements of the robbery occurred before the store owner died.

The Indiana Supreme Court pointed out that while Inman had mischaracterized the law, he was correct about the last sentence. Instead of explaining the law to the jury, the Supreme Court found the trial court seemed to be making an argument for the state.

However, the Supreme Court affirmed the conviction and sentence in Michael Inman v. State of Indiana, 49S00-1207-LW-376. It found the error was harmless because of the overwhelming evidence against the defendant. Also, it concluded that a “reasonable jury” would have returned a guilty verdict if the last sentence had not been given.

Justice Mark Massa concurred in result but found no error in the trial court’s instructions. The judge, in Massa’s opinion, was trying to avoid confusion for the jurors.

“…the judge quite correctly told the jury that you can’t avoid a robbery conviction by killing your victim before you take his property,” Massa wrote. “That is simple, to-the-point guidance for lay jurors and should be encouraged, no admonished.”



 
 

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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