State's policy in court doesn't violate constitution

Back to TopE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The state's refusal to waive jury trials in one Marion Superior Court doesn't violate the constitutional rights of the mentally ill defendants who appear in that court, ruled the Indiana Court of Appeals. The defendants argued their mental illnesses may stigmatize them in the eyes of a jury so they wanted bench trials instead of jury trials.

In the consolidated interlocutory appeal of Joshua Lewis, Nashelia Avant, and Marilyn Owens v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-0808-CR-757, defendants Joshua Lewis, Nashelia Avant, and Marilyn Owens, all of whom had some form of mental illness, challenged the trial court's denial of their petitions to transfer their cases out of Marion Superior Court 8 on the grounds the state's refusal to waive jury trials in that court violated the federal and state constitutions.

Class D felony cases involving defendants with mental health problems or diagnoses are often transferred to Court 8. After a series of bench trials and acquittal of multiple defendants in June 2007, the state refused to waive jury trials for Class D felony cases in Court 8.

Lewis and the others argued the state's refusal to waive jury trials compromises defense counsel's effectiveness by preventing them from making a meaningful strategic decision regarding whether to pursue a jury or bench trial. They contended they are left with a similar "hard choice" as in U.S. v. Lewis, 638 F. Supp. 573, 578 (W.D. Mich. 1986). The appellate judges disagreed, finding the defendants' right to a bench trial isn't analogous to the Lewis defendants' right to religious freedom, wrote Judge Cale Bradford. As such, there was no violation of their Sixth Amendment rights.

The Court of Appeals also didn't agree with the argument that their mental illnesses and the social stigmas that go along with them would infect a jury pool, making a bench trial necessary. The defendants claimed their mental illnesses are a reason to allow them bench trials, like the reasons mentioned in Singer v. United States, 380 U.S. 24, 36 (1965). The U.S. Supreme Court in that case didn't decide when a circumstance may arise that would make it unlikely for an impartial trial by jury because the petitioner gave no reason for wanting to forgo the jury trial other than to save time.

"But without evidence demonstrating otherwise, we cannot assume that negative public perceptions of mental illness necessarily place a mentally-ill defendant at risk or compromise his right to a fair trial when members of the public stand in his judgment," Judge Bradford wrote. "Negative public scrutiny and social ostracism, while no doubt disadvantageous in the social context, are just as likely - and perhaps more likely - to arouse compassion for a criminal defendant."

The Court of Appeals also found the state's policy of refusing to waive jury trials for mentally ill defendants in Court 8 doesn't violate their rights under the Equal Protection Clause or the privileges and immunities clause of the Indiana Constitution. Although the state's alleged policy covers people charged with D felonies who all have some link to mental illness, there was nothing to show the state's policy related to their mental illness, wrote the judge.


Sponsored by
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Lori, you must really love wedding cake stories like this one ... happy enuf ending for you?

  2. This new language about a warning has not been discussed at previous meetings. It's not available online. Since it must be made public knowledge before the vote, does anyone know exactly what it says? Further, this proposal was held up for 5 weeks because members Carol and Lucy insisted that all terms used be defined. So now, definitions are unnecessary and have not been inserted? Beyond these requirements, what is the logic behind giving one free pass to discriminators? Is that how laws work - break it once and that's ok? Just don't do it again? Three members of Carmel's council have done just about everything they can think of to prohibit an anti-discrimination ordinance in Carmel, much to Brainard's consternation, I'm told. These three 'want to be so careful' that they have failed to do what at least 13 other communities, including Martinsville, have already done. It's not being careful. It's standing in the way of what 60% of Carmel residents want. It's hurting CArmel in thT businesses have refused to locate because the council has not gotten with the program. And now they want to give discriminatory one free shot to do so. Unacceptable. Once three members leave the council because they lost their races, the Carmel council will have unanimous approval of the ordinance as originally drafted, not with a one free shot to discriminate freebie. That happens in January 2016. Why give a freebie when all we have to do is wait 3 months and get an ordinance with teeth from Day 1? If nothing else, can you please get s copy from Carmel and post it so we can see what else has changed in the proposal?

  3. Here is an interesting 2012 law review article for any who wish to dive deeper into this subject matter: Excerpt: "Judicial interpretation of the ADA has extended public entity liability to licensing agencies in the licensure and certification of attorneys.49 State bar examiners have the authority to conduct fitness investigations for the purpose of determining whether an applicant is a direct threat to the public.50 A “direct threat” is defined as “a significant risk to the health or safety of others that cannot be eliminated by a modification of policies, practices or procedures, or by the provision of auxiliary aids or services as provided by § 35.139.”51 However, bar examiners may not utilize generalizations or stereotypes about the applicant’s disability in concluding that an applicant is a direct threat.52"

  4. We have been on the waiting list since 2009, i was notified almost 4 months ago that we were going to start receiving payments and we still have received nothing. Every time I call I'm told I just have to wait it's in the lawyers hands. Is everyone else still waiting?

  5. I hope you dont mind but to answer my question. What amendment does this case pretain to?