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First impression in jury rule issue

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The participation of alternate jurors in discussions of evidence during recesses from trial, as allowed under Indiana Jury Rule 20(a)(8), doesn't violate Indiana statute that prevents alternates from participating in deliberations. The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled on the matter for the first time today.

In Austin C. Witherspoon v. State of Indiana, No. 45A03-0809-CR-466, Austin Witherspoon argued that allowing alternate jurors to discuss a case during a recess is the same as them deliberating the case, which alternates aren't allowed to do in Indiana unless he or she replaces a juror. He also claimed he was denied his constitutional and statutory right to a 12-person jury when the alternates were instructed they could discuss the case.

He objected to a preliminary instruction to the jury that said they were allowed to discuss the evidence among themselves during recess from the trial; he raised the same issue in a motion in limine on the morning of his trial for robbery.

The trial court denied his motions, noting the issue hadn't been addressed by the appellate courts, but the alternates would be allowed to participate in the discussions.

Jury Rule 20(a)(8) was amended effective Jan. 1, 2008, to allow alternates to also discuss the evidence in the jury room during recesses from trial when everyone is present.

"We acknowledge Weatherspoon's argument that during discussions, alternate jurors talk about issues of credibility, highlight and discount certain evidence, and narrow and broaden the issues, all of which may affect the final judgment or verdict, yet these discussions are the very discussions that alternate jurors may not have during deliberations," wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik. "Nevertheless, our Supreme Court has unambiguously made a distinction between discussions and deliberations. We are not at liberty to rewrite the rules promulgated by our Supreme Court."

In regards to Witherspoon's constitutional challenge to the rule, the appellate judges pointed out that there isn't a constitutional limit to the maximum number of jurors and he received the statutory entitlement of a 12-member jury.

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  2. As usual, John is "spot-on." The subtle but poignant points he makes are numerous and warrant reflection by mediators and users. Oh but were it so simple.

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  5. I am the father of a sweet little one-year-old named girl, who happens to have Down Syndrome. To anyone who reads this who may be considering the decision to terminate, please know that your child will absolutely light up your life as my daughter has the lives of everyone around her. There is no part of me that condones abortion of a child on the basis that he/she has or might have Down Syndrome. From an intellectual standpoint, however, I question the enforceability of this potential law. As it stands now, the bill reads in relevant part as follows: "A person may not intentionally perform or attempt to perform an abortion . . . if the person knows that the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion solely because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome or a potential diagnosis of Down syndrome." It includes similarly worded provisions abortion on "any other disability" or based on sex selection. It goes so far as to make the medical provider at least potentially liable for wrongful death. First, how does a medical provider "know" that "the pregnant woman is seeking the abortion SOLELY" because of anything? What if the woman says she just doesn't want the baby - not because of the diagnosis - she just doesn't want him/her? Further, how can the doctor be liable for wrongful death, when a Child Wrongful Death claim belongs to the parents? Is there any circumstance in which the mother's comparative fault will not exceed the doctor's alleged comparative fault, thereby barring the claim? If the State wants to discourage women from aborting their children because of a Down Syndrome diagnosis, I'm all for that. Purporting to ban it with an unenforceable law, however, is not the way to effectuate this policy.

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