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Justices reformulate jury instruction

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The Indiana Supreme Court upheld the denial of a man’s petition for post-conviction relief claiming ineffective assistance of counsel. In doing so, the justices addressed the use and language of a jury instruction and rewrote it to make it clearer.

In Kevin L. Hampton v. State of Indiana, No. 84S04-1103-PC-161, Kevin Hampton appealed the denial of his claim of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel. Hampton was convicted of murder, rape and criminal deviate conduct; his convictions and sentences were upheld by the Indiana Court of Appeals. He then sought post-conviction relief, claiming his appellate attorney rendered ineffective assistance by not asserting on direct appeal that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury "[w]here proof of guilt is by circumstantial evidence only, it must be so conclusive in character and point so surely and unerringly to the guilt of the accused as to exclude every reasonable theory of innocence."

Hampton argued that the DNA evidence presented – collected from vaginal swabs and the victim’s tank top – was not direct, but circumstantial evidence.

Before addressing Hampton’s claims, the justices first looked at when to give the “reasonable theory of innocence” instruction. Writing for the court, Justice Brent Dickson said that it is appropriate that juries receive, where appropriate, a “reasonable theory of innocence” instruction in addition to the standard reasonable doubt instruction. The justices decided the current advisement needed reformulated.

“We thus hold that, when the trial court determines that the defendant's conduct required for the commission of a charged offense, the actus reus, is established exclusively by circumstantial evidence, the jury should be instructed as follows: In determining whether the guilt of the accused is proven beyond a reasonable doubt, you should require that the proof be so conclusive and sure as to exclude every reasonable theory of innocence,” he wrote.

The justices then turned to the issue of whether DNA evidence is direct or circumstantial evidence – an issue that had not been specifically addressed by the Indiana Supreme Court or in other states.

“Application of our analysis today leads us to conclude that the DNA evidence in the present case should be considered as circumstantial and not direct evidence of the defendant's conduct comprising the physical components of each of the charged criminal offenses (actus reus). On the other hand, such focus upon actus reus has not been the prevailing basis of prior Indiana case law, which had usually found the ‘reasonable theory of innocence’ instruction properly rejected when any one element of a criminal offense has been proven by direct evidence,” Dickson wrote.

“Under such line of authority, the rejection of the instruction would not have been error in the present case because of the direct evidence in this case proving that the victim was raped, murdered, and criminally sexually battered by someone, or the DNA direct evidence identifying the defendant as having a prior involvement with the victim. The existing state of the law could have led the defendant's appellate counsel to conclude that there was little if any merit in pursuing on appeal the refusal of the ‘reasonable theory of innocence’ instruction.”

 

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  1. It really doesn't matter what the law IS, if law enforcement refuses to take reports (or take them seriously), if courts refuse to allow unrepresented parties to speak (especially in Small Claims, which is supposedly "informal"). It doesn't matter what the law IS, if constituents are unable to make effective contact or receive any meaningful response from their representatives. Two of our pets were unnecessarily killed; court records reflect that I "abandoned" them. Not so; when I was denied one of them (and my possessions, which by court order I was supposed to be able to remove), I went directly to the court. And earlier, when I tried to have the DV PO extended (it expired while the subject was on probation for violating it), the court denied any extension. The result? Same problems, less than eight hours after expiration. Ironic that the county sheriff was charged (and later pleaded to) with intimidation, but none of his officers seemed interested or capable of taking such a report from a private citizen. When I learned from one officer what I needed to do, I forwarded audio and transcript of one occurrence and my call to law enforcement (before the statute of limitations expired) to the prosecutor's office. I didn't even receive an acknowledgement. Earlier, I'd gone in to the prosecutor's office and been told that the officer's (written) report didn't match what I said occurred. Since I had the audio, I can only say that I have very little faith in Indiana government or law enforcement.

  2. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

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  5. Employers should not have racially discriminating mind set. It has huge impact on the society what the big players do or don't do in the industry. Background check is conducted just to verify whether information provided by the prospective employee is correct or not. It doesn't have any direct combination with the rejection of the employees. If there is rejection, there should be something effective and full-proof things on the table that may keep the company or the people associated with it in jeopardy.

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