ILNews

Judges disagrees about jury-verdict reversal

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2008
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The chief judge on the Indiana Court of Appeals is calling a majority's decision today a "radical act" in reversing a $45,000 jury verdict in favor of a former Butler University football player who was suspended from the school after being accused of raping a female volleyball player.

In Susana Henri v. Stephen Curto, No. 49A02-0709-CV-777, Chief Judge John G. Baker disagreed with his two colleagues - authoring Judge Patricia Riley and Judge Margret Robb, who reversed the Marion County jury decision and ordered a new trial.

The case stems from a house party near Butler University in March 2004. Henri accused Curto of raping her in her dorm room, and a university judicial hearing found he'd violated the school rules and suspended him for four years. No criminal charges ever resulted, but Henri filed a civil suit in late 2004 and Curto filed a counterclaim that she had tortiously interfered with his being enrolled in a degree program.

Ultimately, a jury returned a unanimous verdict on the same day it started deliberating, finding that Curto had not raped Henri and that she had in fact interfered with his university contract and awarded him $45,000.

In this appeal, the central issues involved juror misconduct claims and a bailiff's statement to a juror during deliberations. Following the verdict, Henri submitted affidavits stating that one juror had contacted her counsel about being told 20 minutes into deliberations that the jury would have to continue deliberating until a unanimous verdict was reached.

This juror had asked if the verdict needed to be unanimous and wanted to be excused as she was reportedly the sole juror leaning toward Henri's favor and felt the jury was "hopelessly deadlocked," the appeals ruling states.

The bailiff said no and didn't relay the message to the judge or attorneys. Affidavits also noted that jurors kept cell phones and engaged in conversations during deliberations about finishing soon, and the alternate juror reportedly interrupted and distracted the jury during deliberations.

The trial court denied a motion to correct error and supplement the record without a response from Curto's side.

In its appellate ruling, the three-judge panel considered the alleged errors collectively and determined that the outside influence and alternate juror misconduct claims compounded what the panel determined was an ex parte communication, which the majority found to be a misstatement of the law because hung juries can happen.

"The effect of the statement could have a significant impact upon the verdict," Judge Riley wrote. "A plausible effect of the judge's instruction would be that jurors in the minority who are adamant that the majority is wrong may hold out to prevent a verdict. However, the statement by the bailiff conveys that jurors in the minority would face the daunting task of swaying all the other jurors if they are to stick to their convictions, a task surmountable in less than two hours on the silver screen if you are Henry Fonda, but a task that could be overwhelming in real life for the average juror."

On the other points about juror misconduct and outside influence, the majority noted they were at a minimum a nuisance that interrupted the deliberative process but could also amount to obstacles to reaching a fair determination.

Chief Judge Baker took issue first with accepting the juror's affidavit events as true, but that they'd even warrant a reversal if true. He cited the court's recent decision in Myers v. State, 887 N.E. 2d 170 (Ind. Ct. App. May 30, 2008). That case involved the murder of Indiana University student Jill Behrman and claims that sequestered jurors were drinking, watching television, and acting inappropriately during deliberations. This case doesn't rise to that level, the chief judge wrote, but the situation was not ideal.

"I simply do not find it sufficient to take the radical act of reversing a jury verdict and remanding for a new trial," wrote Chief Judge Baker.

Judge Robb wrote a concurring opinion that this case shouldn't be compared to another case as Chief Judge Baker did. She also pointed out that parties are entitled to fair trials and a reversal is appropriate if one party can demonstrate he or she didn't receive one.

One of Curto's attorneys, Bryan Babb with Bose McKinney & Evans in Indianapolis, said he plans to ask the Indiana Supreme Court to review the case.
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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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