High court orders new murder trial

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The Indiana Supreme Court overturned a Fulton County man’s murder sentence because a detective continued with the interview even after the man invoked his right to counsel several times.

James Carr got into an argument with his friend and shot him in the face after his friend provoked him several times to do it. His friend died. Afterward, Carr drove to a bar and admitted to the bartender he killed the friend.

Carr claimed that he unequivocally and repeatedly invoked his right to counsel, so his statements made about the murder to the detective shouldn’t have been admitted into evidence. The state argued Carr’s requests for an attorney were ambiguous and if not, that any resulting error was harmless.

In James A. Carr v. State of Indiana, No. 25S04-1004-CR-219, the justices agreed with Carr, pointing out several times in the transcript of the police interview in which Carr said he wanted to speak to an attorney or have an attorney with him during questioning. The detective acknowledged that was his right, but continued on with the interview by steering the conversation back to the murder. They also found Carr’s answers to the detective’s questions weren’t a valid waiver of his right to counsel.

When Carr invoked his right to counsel, the detective should have ended the questioning immediately until his attorney was present.

“Instead, the detective's ongoing conversation initiated further custodial interrogation, and the defendant's subsequent disclosures were not a product of his own initiation of communication,” wrote Justice Brent Dickson.

In addition, the admittance of these statements into evidence was not a harmless error as they contained considerable details regarding Carr’s state of mind during the killing, which are details that weren’t provided by any other evidence. They reversed and remanded for a new trial.

The high court also addressed Carr’s appeal of his denial of motion for discharge for delay under Indiana Criminal Rule 4. He argued two of his continuance requests should have been properly attributed to the state.

“It has not been uncommon for lawyers and courts to address Rule 4 claims in part by considering whether delay should be 'chargeable to the State,' but the role of the State is an irrelevant consideration in the analysis,” wrote Justice Dickson. “The Rule does not call for any attribution of delay to the State but only for delay attributable to the defendant or insufficient time due to court congestion or emergency. Employing the rhetoric of 'delay chargeable to the State' should be avoided.”

In Carr’s case, both delays he argued were attributable to the state were actually attributable to him, so the trial court didn’t err in attributing the delays to him.


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