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Justices disagree about jury instruction

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The Indiana Supreme Court was split in its ruling that a trial court properly instructed a jury regarding a habitual offender finding, with the dissenters arguing the court's instruction was inadequate as compared to the defendant's proposed jury instruction.

In Larry C. Walden v. State, No. 18S02-0710-CR-458, the Supreme Court granted transfer to Larry Walden's appeal to address whether the trial court erred in rejecting Walden's proposed jury instruction regarding the jury's authority to not find him to be a habitual offender. Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard and Justices Frank Sullivan and Theodore Boehm affirmed the trial court's tendered instruction and rejection of Walden's proposed instruction; Justices Brent Dickson and Robert Rucker dissented, finding the trial court's instruction to be too broad for the jury.

The high court examined its earlier rulings in Holden v. State, 788 N.E.2d 1253, 1253-54 (Ind. 2003), which made clear Indiana juries don't have a broad, general nullification power in criminal cases, and Seay v. State, 698 N.E.2d 732, 737 (Ind. 1998), which the court held a jury may make a habitual offender determination "irrespective of the uncontroverted proof of prior felonies."

In Seay, the Supreme Court had found implicitly Article I, Section 19 applies during the habitual offender phase. In the instant case, the majority wrote that statement wasn't necessary in Seay, and the Indiana Constitution shouldn't have been identified as additional support for the holding and now consider those comments to be obiter dicta.

Under the analysis of a trial court's refusal of a jury instruction, the majority found Walden's tendered jury instruction was a correct statement of law and the trial court's jury instruction covered the material by the rejected instruction. The majority found trial court's instruction, "Under the Constitution of Indiana you have the right to determine both the law and the facts," to be of substance the same information contained in Walden's requested instruction.

But Justices Rucker and Dickson believed the trial court's instruction was generic and broad. Walden's instruction gave express guidance to the jury on what it means to determine the law in the habitual offender context, wrote Justice Rucker.

"Simply advising the jury that it has the right to determine the law and the facts falls woefully short of explaining how this right may be exercised. In contrast, Walden's tendered instruction fills this void," wrote Justice Rucker.

Concurring with Justice Rucker in a separate opinion, Justice Dickson wrote he disagreed with the majority's minimization of the role of Article I, Section 19 in Seay. He also wrote he couldn't agree that the trial court's "broad, unspecific, and opaque instruction" was sufficient to inform the jury of the legal principle embodied in Walden's tendered instruction.

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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