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Inconsistent jury verdicts not reviewable

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Inconsistent, contradictory, or irreconcilable jury verdicts in criminal cases aren't available for appellate review, the Indiana Supreme Court held Thursday.

The high court granted transfer to Shewanda Beattie v. State of Indiana, No. 82S01-0907-CR-307, to address variations in the state's caselaw on the issue of judicial review of logically inconsistent verdicts in the same case. A jury found Shewanda Beattie guilty of possession of cocaine within 1,000 feet of a family housing complex and possession of marijuana, but not guilty of dealing in cocaine, and possession of cocaine. She challenged that her conviction is fatally inconsistent with her acquittal on the charge of possession of the same cocaine. The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed the conviction because the jury's verdict left the appellate court unable to determine what evidence the jury believed.

For the most part, Indiana cases have followed U.S. Supreme Court decisions in Dunn v. United States, 284 U.S. 390, 52 S. Ct. 189, 76 L. Ed. 356 (1932), and United States v. Powell, 469 U.S. 57, 105 S. Ct. 471, 83 L. Ed. 2d 461 (1984). The Powell court affirmed the ruling in Dunn that a criminal defendant convicted by a jury on one count couldn't attack that conviction because it was inconsistent with the jury's verdict of acquittal on another count. Powell emphasized that defendants are already afforded protection against jury irrationality or error by the availability of an independent review for sufficiency of evidence.

One Indiana case, Marsh v. State, 271 Ind. 454, 393 N.E.2d 757 (1979), deviated from this line of authority and ruled that extremely contradictory and irreconcilable verdicts warrant corrective action by the appellate courts. Before the instant case, only in Owsley v. State, 769 N.E.2d 181 (Ind. Ct. App. 2002), has an Indiana appellate court granted relief on this issue.

When a jury returns logically inconsistent verdicts, it could be because the jury misunderstood its instructions or chose to exercise lenity, wrote Justice Brent Dickson. A jury's right to exercise lenity is an important component of the criminal justice system, he continued. Juries can also return inconsistent verdicts because of a compromise among disagreeing jurors, to avoid an all-or-nothing verdict, or for other reasons.

The justices unanimously adopted the federal rule expressed in Dunn and Powell and upheld Beattie's convictions.

"Concluding that the contrasting 'extremely contradictory and irreconcilable' standard devised in Marsh has proven in practice to be unhelpful and inconsistent with Indiana's strong respect for the conscientiousness, wisdom, and common sense of juries, we overrule the standard advanced in Marsh and disapprove of Owsley," Justice Dickson wrote. "Jury verdicts in criminal cases are not subject to appellate review on grounds that they are inconsistent, contradictory, or irreconcilable."

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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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