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Justices reverse rule of law going back to Civil War era

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After requiring for nearly 150 years that a defendant charged with murder or treason be required to prove he or she is entitled to bail, a divided Indiana Supreme Court ruled it now falls upon the state to show that “the proof is evident or the presumption strong” that the defendant is guilty and not entitled to bail.

In making the about-face Tuesday in Loren Hamilton Fry v. State of Indiana, 09S00-1205-CR-361, the majority on the high court also affirmed the trial court’s finding that Indiana Code 35-33-8-2(b), which says a person charged with murder has the burden of proof that he should be admitted to bail, is unconstitutional.

Justice Steven David wrote for the majority, which included Chief Justice Dickson and Justices Mark Massa and Loretta Rush. The case stems from Loren Fry’s challenge to the denial of bail. Fry is charged with murder in Cass County and sought bail, claiming the state’s evidence against him was circumstantial. He also sought a declaration that I.C. 35-33-8-2(b), which places on the defendant charged with murder the burden of proving why he should be admitted to bail, is unconstitutional.

The right to bail is also outlined in Article 1, Section 17 of the Indiana Constitution, which says murder or treason are not bailable when the proof is evident or the presumption strong. The section does not say who bears the burden of proof.

David pointed out that the burden on the defendant has been in place since a case from 1866, and the caselaw supporting it involved people charged under grand jury investigations and habeas corpus cases. The majority decided that it is fair that the party seeking to apply the exception to the right to bail – the state – should be the one required to prove it.

They rejected the state’s argument that the process of requiring the defendant to prove bail should continue because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” as a poor excuse for continuing to do something wrong.

“By placing the burden on the defendant accused of murder or treason in a bail proceeding, we are in effect requiring him, while hampered by incarceration, to disprove the State’s case pre-trial in order to earn the right to be unhampered by incarceration as he prepares to disprove the State’s case at trial. There is no valid justification for such a backwards process,” David wrote.

The opinion also outlines what is contemplated by the burden assigned to the state as to when the proof is evident or the presumption strong. David also cautioned that the opinion shouldn’t be construed to modify – either enhance or diminish – the due process protections that have always been required at bail hearings. The high court affirmed the denial of bail for Fry because the trial court directed the state to proceed first and present its evidence to show that the proof was evident or the presumption strong.

Dickson wrote a concurring opinion in which he says he found determinative the actual language of the Right to Bail Clause of the Indiana Constitution.

“I am convinced that the standard established today represents a proper understanding and application of the Indiana Constitution's Right to Bail Clause, and I thus concur,” he wrote, and Rush joined.

Justice Mark Massa concurred in result regarding the decision to deny Fry bail, but dissented on the majority’s holding that I.C. 35-33-8-2(b) is unconstitutional. He noted he agreed with and joined Justice Robert Rucker’s dissent, but wrote separately to reaffirm and support the high court’s past precedent and longstanding adherence to “an originalist interpretation of our state constitution.”

Rucker concurred with Massa’s dissent, and in his dissent wrote, “In one fell swoop, today the Court overrules nearly 150 years of precedent and declares a 30-year-old statute unconstitutional. Because I am not prepared to go that far, I respectfully dissent.”

He believed the court didn’t need to address the constitutional issue at all.

 

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  • Corrections,
    My mistakes are, disagreement, the word quit should preceed freeloading and cases of justice, should be cases of injustice.
  • Conflict,
    Yes, conflict, there is so much conflict and dis agreement among the justices of the Indiana supreme court, maybe the should find another line of work. Maybe they should just find work and freeloading off the taxpayers. Of course requiring a suspect to prove he is entitled to bail, is unconstitutional. It is real enlightning to know that it only took the court 150 years to correct this mistake, which assuredly was the cause of many cases of justice. I don't even want to think about how many were put to death, during this time!
  • Links are broken
    Lately, I have noticed your links to cases do not work. The link to your lead story does not work today.

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  2. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  3. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

  4. Diversity is important, but with some limitations. For instance, diversity of experience is a great thing that can be very helpful in certain jobs or roles. Diversity of skin color is never important, ever, under any circumstance. To think that skin color changes one single thing about a person is patently racist and offensive. Likewise, diversity of values is useless. Some values are better than others. In the case of a supreme court justice, I actually think diversity is unimportant. The justices are not to impose their own beliefs on rulings, but need to apply the law to the facts in an objective manner.

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