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Judges order new trial based on prosecutor’s comments

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Comments made by a prosecutor during a Harrison County man’s trial for charges stemming from a break-in at a convenience store improperly suggested that the man chose not to testify so he would not incriminate himself, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

In Patrick Nichols v. State of Indiana, 31A01-1112-CR-599, the state charged Patrick Nichols with Class C felony burglary, Class D felony theft and Class A misdemeanor criminal mischief, believing he broke into the Wilson General Store and gas station in Elizabeth and stole cigarettes and an air conditioner unit. Store owner Emmett Wilson and a police officer went to the store after the burglar alarm went off around 3 a.m. on April 14, 2011. No one was found in the store, but items were missing and in disarray.

According to court records, Nichols made several calls from inside the store between 6 and 7 a.m., including to his mother and ex-girlfriend. He told his ex-girlfriend that he was at a gas station in Elizabeth and needed picked up, but she did not get him. A passerby saw a PT Cruiser in the alley near the store and saw some of the metal siding from the store was pried off. The passerby wrote down the license plate number, which was only one “alpha character” different than the license plate number of Nichols’ mother, who also had a PT Cruiser.

The prosecution acknowledged that its evidence against Nichols was “not a lot.” The prosecutor went on to say, “I usually don’t comment on a person’s [F]ifth [A]mendment right …” and told a story about another case in which the evidence was extremely thin but the defendant was convicted because he chose to testify and, in testifying, provided the jury with evidence of his guilt.

Nichols did not object to the prosecutor’s comments and was convicted of the three charges.

The Court of Appeals decided the prosecutor’s comments rose to the level of fundamental error. The jury could have reasonably inferred that the prosecutor was suggesting that Nichols didn’t testify so as to avoid self-incrimination, Judge Terry Crone wrote.

“In fact, we think it is obvious that the prosecutor was suggesting that the jury draw an inference of guilt from Nichols’s decision not to testify. Given the obviousness of the prosecutor’s comments and the fact that the evidence of guilt was not overwhelming in this case, we conclude that the comments placed Nichols in a position of grave peril and constituted clearly blatant violations of basic and elementary principles of due process that presented an undeniable and substantial potential for harm,” he wrote.

The judges ordered the trial court conduct a new trial.

 

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  1. This is easily remedied, and in a fashion that every church sacrificing incense for its 501c3 status and/or graveling for government grants should have no problem with ..... just add this statue, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Capitoline_she-wolf_Musei_Capitolini_MC1181.jpg entitled, "Jesus and Cousin John learn to suckle sustenance from the beloved Nanny State." Heckfire, the ACLU might even help move the statue in place then. And the art will certainly reflect our modern life, given the clergy's full-bellied willingness to accede to every whim of the new caesars. If any balk, just threaten to take away their government milk … they will quiet down straightaway, I assure you. Few, if any of them, are willing to cross the ruling elite as did the real J&J

  2. Tina has left the building.

  3. Is JLAP and its bevy of social "scientists" the cure to every ailment of the modern practitioner? I see no allegations as to substance abuse, but I sure see a judge who has seemingly let power go to her head and who lacks any appreciation for the rule of law. Seems that she needs help in her legal philosophy and judicial restraint, not some group encounter session to affirm she is OK, we are OK. Can’t we lawyers just engage in peer professionalism and even peer pressure anymore? Need we social workers to tell us it is wrong to violate due process? And if we conduct ourselves with the basic respect for the law shown by most social workers .... it that good enough in Indiana? If not, then how is JLAP to help this 2003 law school grad get what her law school evidently failed to teach her? (In addition .... rhetorical question … I have a theory that the LAP model serves as a conduit for governmental grace when the same strict application of the law visited upon the poor and the powerless just will not do. See in the records of this paper ... can the argument be made that many who save their licenses, reputations, salaries by calling upon that font of grace are receiving special treatment? Who tracks the application of said grace to assure that EP and DP standards are fully realized? Does the higher one climbs inside the Beltway bring greater showers of grace? Should such grace be the providence of the government, or the churches and NGO's? Why, we would not want to be found mixing the remnants of our abandoned faith with the highest loyalty to the secularist state, now would we?)

  4. Is JLAP and its bevy of social "scientists" the cure to every ailment of the modern practitioner? I see no allegations as to substance abuse, but I sure see a judge who has seemingly let power go to her head and who lacks any appreciation for the rule of law. Seems that she needs help in her legal philosophy and judicial restraint, not some group encounter session to affirm she is OK, we are OK. Cannot we lawyers not engage in peer professionalism and even pressure anymore? Need we social workers to tell us it is wrong to violate due process? And if we conduct ourselves with the basis respect for the law shown by most social workers .... it that good enough in Indiana?

  5. Judge Baker nails it: "Russell was in a place he did not have a right to be, to take an action he did not have a right to take. Russell neglected to leave that property even after engaging in a heated argument with and being struck with a broom handle by the property owner." AS is noted below ... sad to think that the next shoe to drop will be the thief suing the car owner. That is justice?

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