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Indecision over peremptory challenge waives defendant’s ability to appeal

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A defense counsel’s courtroom debate over how to use his final peremptory strike prohibited the defendant from appealing the trial court decision to retain a juror who raised concerns about impartiality.

Gary Oswalt appealed his convictions and aggregate 84-year sentence for two counts of child molesting as Class A felonies, child solicitation as a Class D felony, and five counts of possession of child pornography as Class D felonies.  

Oswalt argued the trial court abused its discretion when it refused to remove Juror No. 28 for cause after the defense had exhausted its peremptory strikes. He maintained that juror should have been removed because during questioning the juror told the court he could not be fair and was not comfortable hearing the case.

The state countered Oswalt had not used all his peremptory challenges when the court denied his request to strike Juror No. 28. After the court denied Oswalt’s counsel’s motion to strike, the attorney had an audible conversation over whether to use his last peremptory strike to remove Juror No. 25 or Juror No. 28 before deciding to remove the former.

Therefore, the state concluded, Oswalt waived appellate review because he had not exhausted his peremptory challenge at the time that the court denied his request to strike Juror No. 28 for cause.

In Gary Oswalt v. State of Indiana, 35A02-1208-CR-684, the Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with the state. It found that Oswalt had failed to exhaust his peremptory strikes at the time he tried to remove Juror No. 28.  

However, in a footnote, the Court of Appeals stated it might have ruled differently if the defense had not debated how to use the final peremptory challenge. According to the COA, the record demonstrated that when Oswalt asked the court if he had used his last preempt, the court affirmed.

If this had been the extent of the discussion, the COA stated it would agree that Oswalt had exhausted his peremptory strikes. However, the record went on to show defense counsel then debated how to use his final strike, indicating he was aware he had not used all his peremptory challenges.  

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