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Justices discuss jury unanimity in molestation cases

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The Indiana Supreme Court addressed the issue of unanimous jury verdicts in child molesting cases Thursday, and adopted reasoning from the California Supreme Court when dealing with the “either/or” rule in cases where multiple instances are mentioned but the defendant faces only one charge.

Elmer Baker was convicted of three counts of child molesting with two of his victims being relatives and one the friend of a victim. He challenged his convictions on several grounds, but the only issue the Supreme Court took up in Elmer D. Baker v. State of Indiana, No. 17S04-1009-CR-500, was Baker’s challenge that his convictions aren’t sustained by evidence of jury unanimity. The justices summarily affirmed the Indiana Court of Appeals opinion in all other respects.

The victims testified at trial of multiple acts, but Baker was only convicted of two counts of Class A felony child molesting and one count of Class C felony child molesting.

The justices delved into issues surrounding unanimous verdicts and child molesting cases, noting in general, the precise time and date of the commission of a child molestation offense isn’t regarded as a material element of the crime. Writing for the court, Justice Robert Rucker pointed out that depending on the facts, applying the rule of jury unanimity can present challenges in charges of child molestation.

The justices then went on to give a few scenarios in which this issue arises, including when a young child is abused so frequently that they lose any reference of time and give generic testimony, such as the molestation occurred every time the parent went to the store. Several jurisdictions have enacted criminal statutes that don’t require evidence of particular incidents for prosecution, yet Indiana has not. The justices encouraged the General Assembly to consider adopting a statute criminalizing an ongoing pattern of sexual abuse when the victim is unable to reconstruct the specific circumstances of any one incident.

Jury unanimity is also at issue when, as in the case of Baker, evidence is presented of a greater number of separate criminal offenses than the defendant is charged with. The “either/or” rule is the procedure most commonly followed to balance the need to prosecute these types of cases.

“That is to say, the defendant is entitled either to an election by the State of the single act upon which it is relying for a conviction or to a specific unanimity instruction,” wrote Justice Rucker.

The Indiana justices decided to adopt the California Supreme Court’s adoption of the either/or rule, and held that the state may in its discretion designate a specific act or acts on which it relies to prove a particular charge. If the state decides not to so designate, then the jurors should be instructed that in order to convict the defendant they must either unanimously agree that the defendant committed the same act or acts or that the defendant committed all of the acts described by the victim and included within the time period charged.

The state didn’t do so in Baker’s case, but it wasn’t compelled to do so. In addition, Baker never objected to the trial court’s instruction nor offered an instruction of his own, so the issue is waived, the justices ruled. They held Baker didn’t demonstrate that the instruction error was so prejudicial that he was denied a fair trial.
 

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  1. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  2. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  3. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  4. I totally agree with John Smith.

  5. An idea that would harm the public good which is protected by licensing. Might as well abolish doctor and health care professions licensing too. Ridiculous. Unrealistic. Would open the floodgates of mischief and abuse. Even veteranarians are licensed. How has deregulation served the public good in banking, for example? Enough ideology already!

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