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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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  1. From back in the day before secularism got a stranglehold on Hoosier jurists comes this great excerpt via Indiana federal court judge Allan Sharp, dedicated to those many Indiana government attorneys (with whom I have dealt) who count the law as a mere tool, an optional tool that is not to be used when political correctness compels a more acceptable result than merely following the path that the law directs: ALLEN SHARP, District Judge. I. In a scene following a visit by Henry VIII to the home of Sir Thomas More, playwriter Robert Bolt puts the following words into the mouths of his characters: Margaret: Father, that man's bad. MORE: There is no law against that. ROPER: There is! God's law! MORE: Then God can arrest him. ROPER: Sophistication upon sophistication! MORE: No, sheer simplicity. The law, Roper, the law. I know what's legal not what's right. And I'll stick to what's legal. ROPER: Then you set man's law above God's! MORE: No, far below; but let me draw your attention to a fact I'm not God. The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can't navigate. I'm no voyager. But in the thickets of law, oh, there I'm a forester. I doubt if there's a man alive who could follow me there, thank God... ALICE: (Exasperated, pointing after Rich) While you talk, he's gone! MORE: And go he should, if he was the Devil himself, until he broke the law! ROPER: So now you'd give the Devil benefit of law! MORE: Yes. What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil? ROPER: I'd cut down every law in England to do that! MORE: (Roused and excited) Oh? (Advances on Roper) And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned round on you where would you hide, Roper, the laws being flat? (He leaves *1257 him) This country's planted thick with laws from coast to coast man's laws, not God's and if you cut them down and you're just the man to do it d'you really think you would stand upright in the winds that would blow then? (Quietly) Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake. ROPER: I have long suspected this; this is the golden calf; the law's your god. MORE: (Wearily) Oh, Roper, you're a fool, God's my god... (Rather bitterly) But I find him rather too (Very bitterly) subtle... I don't know where he is nor what he wants. ROPER: My God wants service, to the end and unremitting; nothing else! MORE: (Dryly) Are you sure that's God! He sounds like Moloch. But indeed it may be God And whoever hunts for me, Roper, God or Devil, will find me hiding in the thickets of the law! And I'll hide my daughter with me! Not hoist her up the mainmast of your seagoing principles! They put about too nimbly! (Exit More. They all look after him). Pgs. 65-67, A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS A Play in Two Acts, Robert Bolt, Random House, New York, 1960. Linley E. Pearson, Atty. Gen. of Indiana, Indianapolis, for defendants. Childs v. Duckworth, 509 F. Supp. 1254, 1256 (N.D. Ind. 1981) aff'd, 705 F.2d 915 (7th Cir. 1983)

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