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Justices order retrial due to deficient jury instruction

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The Indiana Supreme Court found that a final jury instruction in a woman’s trial for receiving stolen property did not correctly state the law, and it remanded for a new trial.

In Lisa J. Kane v. State of Indiana, 30S04-1206-CR-372, Lisa Kane appealed her Class D felony conviction on the basis that the trial court abused its discretion in giving final instruction No. 12 on accomplice liability. At trial, her attorney objected to proposed instruction No. 8 on accomplice liability, which said, “You are instructed that when two or more persons combine to commit a crime, each is responsible for the acts of his confederate(s) committed in furtherance of the common design, the act of one being the act of all.”  

After a discussion between Kane’s attorney and the court, the proposed instruction was eventually included in final instruction No. 12 and mirrored the instruction used in Harrison v. State, 269 Ind. 677, 382 N.E.2d 920 (1978). It said, “Where two or more persons combine to commit a crime, each is criminally responsible for the acts of his or her confederates committed in furtherance of common design, the act of each being the act of all.”

A split Court of Appeals affirmed her conviction. Judge Michael Barnes dissented, finding that the final instruction was “outdated and woefully inadequate” and did not include the mental state requirement for accomplice liability.

The justices agreed with Barnes, overturning Kane’s conviction and ordering a retrial. They found the instruction was an incorrect statement of the law as it seemed to impose strict liability on Kane for the unlawful acts of her ex-boyfriend Sam Rifner whether she knew about them or not.

Due to economic reasons, Rifner and Kane had to move back in with their parents. At one point, Rifner’s mom noticed some items in her home were missing and Rifner admitted pawning some of them. Kane’s signature was on two of the pawn tickets. Kane maintained she didn’t know Rifner didn’t have permission to sell the items.

The justices found the error was not harmless because they couldn’t say the verdict would be the same if the jury had been properly instructed as to the knowledge requirement of the offense.
 

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  5. I whole-heartedly agree with Doug Church's comment, above. Indiana lawyers were especially fortunate to benefit from Tom Pyrz' leadership and foresight at a time when there has been unprecedented change in the legal profession. Consider how dramatically computer technology and its role in the practice of law have changed over the last 25 years. The impact of the great recession of 2008 dramatically changed the composition and structure of law firms across the country. Economic pressures altered what had long been a routine, robust annual recruitment process for law students and recent law school graduates. That has, in turn, impacted law school enrollment across the country, placing upward pressure on law school tuition. The internet continues to drive significant changes in the provision of legal services in both public and private sectors. The ISBA has worked to make quality legal representation accessible and affordable for all who need it and to raise general public understanding of Indiana laws and procedures. How difficult it would have been to tackle each of these issues without Tom's leadership. Tom has set the tone for positive change at the ISBA to meet the evolving practice needs of lawyers of all backgrounds and ages. He has led the organization with vision, patience, flexibility, commitment, thoughtfulness & even humor. He will, indeed, be a tough act to follow. Thank you, Tom, for all you've done and all the energy you've invested in making the ISBA an excellent, progressive, highly responsive, all-inclusive, respectful & respected professional association during his tenure there.

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