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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. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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