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Judge did not modify jury instructions

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A Lawrence County man was unable to prove to the Court of Appeals that the trial court abused its discretion when it denied his motion for a mistrial. He argued the judge modified the jury instructions when he answered a question from the jury in mid-deliberations.

Jason Fields was charged with two counts of Class B felony dealing in methamphetamine. He purchased the drug from a confidential informant of the Bedford Police Department for his roommate. During jury deliberations at Fields’ trial, the jury submitted a question to Lawrence Superior Judge William Sleva asking for clarification of final instruction 11. The jury wanted to know whether the second part of the instruction required the state to prove both the first and second parts of the instruction, or just one part. That instruction laid out that the state must have proven beyond a reasonable doubt that Fields’ conduct wasn’t the product of a law enforcement agent using persuasion or other means to cause Fields to engage in the conduct, or that Fields was predisposed to commit the offense.

Sleva told the jury the second part of the instruction is not both, it’s an “either/or.” That’s when Fields moved for a mistrial, which Sleva denied. He was convicted of both counts.

Fields argued on appeal that the trial court erred when it answered the jury question submitted after deliberations began, thereby “modifying” the final jury instructions. The Court of Appeals disagreed, citing Taylor v. State, 677 N.E.2d 56 (Ind. Ct. Ap. 1997), in support.

As in Taylor, Sleva merely answered the jury’s question of law arising out of the case and followed the procedure set out in Indiana Code 34-36-1-6 by calling the jury back to open court and answering the questions in the presence of counsel, Judge Edward Najam wrote. The trial court was not required to reread the final instructions in their entirety.

 

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  1. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  2. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  3. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  4. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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