ILNews

Justices decide statute, court rule issue

Back to TopE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

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after the General Assembly enacted Indiana Code 35-33.5-3-3 requiring that kind of judicial review, but legislators repealed that statute in 2007 - before this case materialized.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 In essence, the court rule no longer applies because the statute has been revoked.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.

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Please I need help with my class action lawsuits, im currently in pro-se and im having hard time findiNG A LAWYER TO ASSIST ME

  2. Access to the court (judiciary branch of government) is the REAL problem, NOT necessarily lack of access to an attorney. Unfortunately, I've lived in a legal and financial hell for the past six years due to a divorce (where I was, supposedly, represented by an attorney) in which I was defrauded of settlement and the other party (and helpers) enriched through the fraud. When I attempted to introduce evidence and testify (pro se) in a foreclosure/eviction, I was silenced (apparently on procedural grounds, as research I've done since indicates). I was thrown out of a residence which was to be sold, by a judge who refused to allow me to speak in (the supposedly "informal") small claims court where the eviction proceeding (by ex-brother-in-law) was held. Six years and I can't even get back on solid or stable ground ... having bank account seized twice, unlawfully ... and now, for the past year, being dragged into court - again, contrary to law and appellate decisions - by former attorney, who is trying to force payment from exempt funds. Friday will mark fifth appearance. Hopefully, I'll be allowed to speak. The situation I find myself in shouldn't even be possible, much less dragging out with no end in sight, for years. I've done nothing wrong, but am watching a lot of wrong being accomplished under court jurisdiction; only because I was married to someone who wanted and was granted a divorce (but was not willing to assume the responsibilities that come with granting the divorce). In fact, the recalcitrant party was enriched by well over $100k, although it was necessarily split with other actors. Pro bono help? It's a nice dream ... but that's all it is, for too many. Meanwhile, injustice marches on.

  3. Both sites mentioned in the article appear to be nonfunctional to date (March 28, 2017). http://indianalegalanswers.org/ returns a message stating the "server is taking too long to respond" and http://www.abafreelegalasnswers.org/ "can't find the server". Although this does not surprise me, it is disheartening to know that access to the judicial branch of government remains out of reach for too many citizens (for procedural rather than meritorious reasons) of Indiana. Any updates regarding this story?

  4. I've been denied I appeal court date took a year my court date was Nov 9,2016 and have not received a answer yet

  5. Warsaw indiana dcs lying on our case. We already proved that in our first and most recent court appearance i need people to contact me who have evidence of dcs malpractice please email or facebook nathaniel hollett thank you

ADVERTISEMENT