Judges order new robbery trial

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Because a trial judge did not re-read all of the jury instructions when giving jurors an additional instruction after deliberations began, the Indiana Court of Appeals ordered a new trial on the felony robbery charge.

Robert Dowell was charged with Class A felony robbery resulting in serious bodily injury stemming from an attack by Dowell, his girlfriend, and another man on Roman Nusbaum. The three decided to rob Nusbaum after seeing him at a bar. The girlfriend lured Nusbaum to another location where Dowell hit him with a bat.

After the jury began deliberations, jurors had a few questions as to the elements of robbery. The jury foreman submitted a handwritten note with the questions. Cass Superior Senior Judge Douglas Morton responded to the questions by writing on the note, “Indiana law provides that a person who aids another person to commit an offense commits that offense.” He did not call the jury back into the room nor did he re-read all the instructions, including the new one on accomplice liability. The jury convicted Dowell as charged.

In Robert Dowell v. State of Indiana, 09A05-1201-CR-36, the Court of Appeals reversed based on Crowdus v. State, 431 N.E.2d 796, 798 (Ind. 1982), and Graves v. State, 714 N.E.2d 724, 726 (Ind. Ct. App. 1999). The Indiana Supreme Court “has long recognized that once jury deliberations begin, the trial court should not give any additional instructions,” Judge Melissa May wrote, with the exception of when the jury’s question coincides with an error or “legal lacuna” in the final instructions.

In those cases, the trial judge should re-read the entire set of final instructions as to not place special significance or emphasis on the particular issue raised by the jury.

The judges reversed and ordered a new trial for Dowell.



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