Justices decide statute, court rule issue

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Even if a court rule is no longer relevant and an underlying state statute has been removed from the books, the Indiana Supreme Court says it still applies and must be followed until the justices revisit it themselves or say otherwise.

In a decision issued Friday by the Indiana Supreme Court, justices explored the controversial issue of police wiretapping and prosecutorial warrants, and how state statute has evolved since the early 1990s. The case is State v. Michael Haldeman and Rachel Lawson, No. 55S00-0906-CR-266, and involves two consolidated appeals.

The case involves the police investigation of a drug tracking organization centered in Morgan County, an investigation that began in late 2007. Eventually, police had enough information to request "intercept warrants" that would allow them to put wiretaps on certain cell and residential phone lines. Morgan Superior Judge Jane Spencer Craney found probable cause for these warrants and granted them, which led to the eventual arrests of both Michael Haldeman and Rachel Lawson. They were arrested and charged in 2008 with one or more counts of conspiracy to deal methamphetamine, a Class B felony.

But in getting those underlying wiretapping warrants, prosecutors hadn't complied with Criminal Rule 25 that required an independent preliminary review by the Indiana Court of Appeals before the warrants could be acted on. The Indiana Supreme Court had established the rule in 1990, soon after the General Assembly enacted Indiana Code 35-33.5-3-3 requiring that kind of judicial review, but legislators repealed that statute in 2007 - before this case materialized. At the trial level, Morgan Superior Judge Christopher Burnham found that the state should have complied with Criminal Rule 25 despite the statute's repeal; he suppressed the wiretap-garnered evidence as a result.

The state argued that Criminal Rule 25 was created solely to "accompany and give support to a statute," and that the legislature's repeal of that statute vitiated the need for any procedures to implement the now-defunct requirement. In essence, the court rule no longer applies because the statute has been revoked. But the defense argued that Criminal Rule 25 remains in effect despite the repeal, particularly because appellate judges can provide a more "neutral and detached" review on such a difficult issue touching on citizens' privacy and civil liberties.

The case went up on appeal, but the state sought emergency transfer from the Supreme Court and justices heard arguments in September before granting transfer and issuing its decision today.

In writing for the court, Justice Brent Dickson found that Criminal Rule 25 clearly was intended to supply the procedural framework for automatic review detailed in the state statute. But even when that law's been repealed, it doesn't automatically invalidate or vitiate a criminal procedure rule established by the high court.

"Until amended or rescinded by this Court, the validity of Criminal Rule 25 and its procedural requirements remain in full force and effect," he wrote. "The policy arguments presented by the State and the defendants, while relevant to whether the Rule should be modified or repealed in the future do not affect its present validity."

Even though the state erred in not following Criminal Rule 25 in these cases, the justices said that doesn't mean Judge Burnham should have automatically suppressed the wiretapping warrants issued by his colleague. Instead, he should have determined whether the pair's "substantial rights" were affected before making that decision. Finding that neither party demonstrated their substantial rights were affected by the state's failure to follow Criminal Rule 25, the justices reversed the suppression.

All five justices agreed in the final decision, though Justice Robert Rucker concurred in result. The cases are remanded for further proceedings, with the wiretapping warrants not suppressed.


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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.