ILNews

State waited too long to file charges, court rules

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed a voluntary manslaughter case on grounds that prosecutors waited too long to file charges.

Appellate judges issued a decision today in Ralph Barnett v. State of Indiana, 48A02-0605-CR-389 which stems from a 1993 physical confrontation at the Pendleton Correctional Facility. Barnett got into fight with fellow inmate Ricky Combs after being released from cells for a creation session, and Barnett maneuvered a handmade pick away from Combs before starting to walk away. When Combs attacked again, Barnett pinned him against a nearby gate and stabbed him repeatedly with the knife. Guards broke up the fight and inmates returned to their cells, where guards soon after found Combs bleeding. He later died of the stab wounds after being transported to a hospital.

The state didn't charge Barnett for 12 years, and Barnett filed a motion to dismiss on that eventual charging in July 2005 on grounds that the delay violated his due process rights. The trial judge denied the motion and a jury later found Barnett not guilty of murder, but guilty of a lesser-included offense of voluntary manslaughter. He was sentenced to 30 years imprisonment.

In its unanimous opinion today, the Court of Appeals wrote that there is no evidence that the delay was necessary and that it hampered Barnett's ability to fully investigate the case and effectively cross-examine witnesses. Along with witnesses, the prosecutor in the case has died, the panel noted.

"Here, Barnett was clearly prejudiced by the State's unexplained and unjustified delay - whether intentional or negligent - in bringing charges," Judge James Kirsch wrote.
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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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