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Justices clarify jury taint, mistrial standards

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Because the Indiana Court of Appeals cited three different mistrial standards in a man’s appeal of the denial of his motion for a mistrial, the Indiana Supreme Court took his case to clarify its precedent for trial courts to use to determine whether a mistrial is a cure for a jury taint.

Five days into Ernesto Ramirez’s murder and criminal gang activity trial, Juror 282 informed the court about a shooting at her home the night before. The juror said her neighbor heard gun shots in the apartment above her and “told them I was a jury member in a case.” She also told other jurors about the incident. She was removed from the jury, but the trial court denied Ramirez’s motion for a mistrial. The judge found the jury could remain impartial.

“Federal and Indiana precedent has narrowed the presumption of prejudice to apply in cases where the defendants show more than just potential taint – but some Indiana precedent, including our own, has applied that presumption inconsistently,” Justice Loretta Rush wrote in Ernesto Roberto Ramirez v. State of Indiana, 45S05-1305-CR-331. “We now clarify its precise scope, and reiterate the proper process for trial courts to address jury taint in the courtroom. We hold that no presumption applies in Ramirez’s case, and that the trial court’s approach in addressing his allegation of jury taint was correct.”

Rush pointed to previous cases in which Indiana courts have cited the presumption of prejudice but didn’t follow it. One court even concluded that the presumption of prejudice no longer existed in Indiana. But the presumption of prejudice does remain under Remmer v. United States, 347 U.S. 227, 229 (1954), and Indiana Supreme Court precedent.

“Trial courts should apply the presumption of prejudice analysis of Currin (v. State) in the context of the procedures we established in Lindsey (v. State),” Rush wrote. “Trial courts must immediately investigate suspected jury taint by thoroughly interviewing jurors collectively and individually, if necessary.

“Once defendants move for mistrial, the trial courts should assess whether or not there is enough evidence to meet the two-part showing under Currin. If so, then the presumption of prejudice applies and the burden shifts to the State to prove harmless error. If not, then the trial courts should determine whether a juror’s misconduct was gross or probably harmed the defendant.”  

Ramirez failed to show that Juror 282’s apartment incident was related to his case. She was not even sure if her status as a juror trigged the apartment shooting. Her own narration strongly suggests that no one even entered her apartment. The justices affirmed the Court of Appeals’ decision to uphold Ramirez’s sentence.

Justice Mark Massa concurred in result, writing that the majority attempted to create order by carving out a new analytical framework and questioning one of the high court’s prior decisions: Griffin v. State, 754 N.E.2d 899, (Ind. 2001). He believes the justices can synthesize the three seminal federal decisions on this issue – Remmer, Smith v. Phillips, 455 U.S. 209 (1982), and United States v. Olano, 507 U.S. 725 (1993), and articulate a reasonable rule without “doing violence to our precedent.”
 

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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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