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Justices address forum-shopping

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The Indiana Supreme Court has clarified that a defendant who claims forum-shopping has happened in a criminal case does not need to establish prejudice in order to prevail on appeal. While the justices found no violation occurred in Jesse J. Harris, Jr. v. State of Indiana, No. 34S02-1203-CR-169, and affirmed the trial court ruling, the court has asked Howard County judges to review a local rule.

The case involves a murder in April 2008, when Jesse J. Harris, Jr. and two others left a strip club in Kokomo and followed a white Monte Carlo. They shot one man and two underage girls, and one of those girls was killed. A jury convicted Harris and the court sentenced him to the maximum 165 years for three counts combined.

The Court of Appeals affirmed last year, and in granting transfer the Supreme Court summarily affirmed the COA’s decision on all but one issue. The claim involving the state’s violation of a case-filing rule is what the justices have now clarified.

On appeal, Harris argued that the only reason his trial occurred in Howard Superior 1 was because the prosecutors engaged in forum-shopping. The Howard Circuit and Superior courts adopted a rule providing for a weekly rotation among the Circuit, Superior II and Superior IV judges – requiring a prosecutor to file felony charges in the court designated by the weekly rotation based on when the offense occurred. An exception says that when a defendant already faces an earlier criminal charge in a court not on rotation, the prosecutor must file the felony charges in that court. In this case, Harris already had a pending criminal charge in Howard Superior 1.

The Court of Appeals found that Harris could not show he had suffered any prejudice and declined to address the merits of the claim, but the justices disagreed with that.

“We think that requiring a defendant to establish prejudice sets the bar too high and therefore hold that a defendant need not do so to win a reversal,” Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote.

Harris argued that the “another charge pending” exception doesn’t apply because the first charge had already been resolved by the time the second charged was filed.

“Although Harris’s interpretation of Local Rule 29 has some force, the trial court’s reading of its own rule, approved here through the standard process, is a plausible one entitled to some deference on appeal,” Shepard wrote. “We are thus inclined to accept its interpretation and conclude that no violation occurred. Still, the shades of grey in Local Rule 29 that led to this dispute need sharpening up. We will therefore ask the judges in Howard County to draft amendments sufficient to prevent a recurrence.”





 

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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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