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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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  2. Hail to our Constitutional Law Expert in the Executive Office! “What you’re not paying attention to is the fact that I just took an action to change the law,” Obama said.

  3. What is this, the Ind Supreme Court thinking that there is a separation of powers and limited enumerated powers as delegated by a dusty old document? Such eighteen century thinking, so rare and unwanted by the elites in this modern age. Dictate to us, dictate over us, the massess are chanting! George Soros agrees. Time to change with times Ind Supreme Court, says all President Snows. Rule by executive decree is the new black.

  4. I made the same argument before a commission of the Indiana Supreme Court and then to the fedeal district and federal appellate courts. Fell flat. So very glad to read that some judges still beleive that evidentiary foundations matter.

  5. KUDOS to the Indiana Supreme Court for realizing that some bureacracies need to go to the stake. Recall what RWR said: "No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth!" NOW ... what next to this rare and inspiring chopping block? Well, the Commission on Gender and Race (but not religion!?!) is way overdue. And some other Board's could be cut with a positive for State and the reputation of the Indiana judiciary.

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