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State's policy in court doesn't violate constitution

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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.

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  1. Looks like 2017 will be another notable year for these cases. I have a Grandson involved in a CHINS case that should never have been. He and the whole family are being held hostage by CPS and the 'current mood' of the CPS caseworker. If the parents disagree with a decision, they are penalized. I, along with other were posting on Jasper County Online News, but all were quickly warned to remove posts. I totally understand that some children need these services, but in this case, it was mistakes, covered by coorcement of father to sign papers, lies and cover-ups. The most astonishing thing was within 2 weeks of this child being placed with CPS, a private adoption agency was asking questions regarding child's family in the area. I believe a photo that was taken by CPS manager at the very onset during the CHINS co-ocerment and the intent was to make money. I have even been warned not to post or speak to anyone regarding this case. Parents have completed all requirements, met foster parents, get visitation 2 days a week, and still the next court date is all the way out till May 1, which gives them(CPS) plenty of to time make further demands (which I expect) No trust of these 'seasoned' case managers, as I have already learned too much about their dirty little tricks. If they discover that I have posted here, I expect they will not be happy and penalized parents again. Still a Hostage.

  2. They say it was a court error, however they fail to mention A.R. was on the run from the law and was hiding. Thus why she didn't receive anything from her public defender. Step mom is filing again for adoption of the two boys she has raised. A.R. is a criminal with a serious heroin addiction. She filed this appeal MORE than 30 days after the final decision was made from prison. Report all the facts not just some.

  3. Hysteria? Really Ben? Tell the young lady reported on in the link below that worrying about the sexualizing of our children is mere hysteria. Such thinking is common in the Royal Order of Jesters and other running sex vacays in Thailand or Brazil ... like Indy's Jared Fogle. Those tempted to call such concerns mere histronics need to think on this: http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/a-12-year-old-girl-live-streamed-her-suicide-it-took-two-weeks-for-facebook-to-take-the-video-down/ar-AAlT8ka?li=AA4ZnC&ocid=spartanntp

  4. This is happening so much. Even in 2016.2017. I hope the father sue for civil rights violation. I hope he sue as more are doing and even without a lawyer as pro-se, he got a good one here. God bless him.

  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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