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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 sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  2. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  3. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  4. I totally agree with John Smith.

  5. An idea that would harm the public good which is protected by licensing. Might as well abolish doctor and health care professions licensing too. Ridiculous. Unrealistic. Would open the floodgates of mischief and abuse. Even veteranarians are licensed. How has deregulation served the public good in banking, for example? Enough ideology already!

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