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Trial court didn't err in denying mistrial

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A trial court didn't abuse its discretion in denying a mistrial after learning a juror asked the state's firearms expert a question outside the courtroom during a recess in the trial, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled.

Zachariah H. Holden appealed his conviction of Class B felony robbery and adjudication as a habitual offender, arguing his motion for a mistrial should have been granted based on the juror's actions. Deputy Sheriff Steven Lawson testified as an expert on firearms and firearms identification. He reviewed two photographs taken from surveillance video of the gun used during the robbery of a convenience store. He testified based on the photos, the gun was a six-shot Taurus .357 revolver with a 6 ½-inch barrel. But, he later said he couldn't tell based on the photos if the gun was a six- or eight-shot gun.

During a recess, a juror asked the deputy sheriff if he could tell whether the gun was a six- or eight-shot revolver, and he said he couldn't tell by looking at the photos. Lawson told the juror he thought it was a six-shot but there are two versions of the gun. After learning of the incident, the court brought all the jurors in, admonished them, informed them they couldn't ask questions outside of the courtroom, and put Lawson back on the stand to answer the question.

Holden had moved for a mistrial because Lawson talked to the juror about an issue directly related to the case; the trial court denied it because it didn't involve an outside influence talking to the juror. Defense counsel rejected the idea of dismissing the juror.

In Holden v. State, No. 57A03-0903-CR-111, the appellate court determined the failure to grant a mistrial wasn't an error. Holden likely waived the issue because his counsel declined to replace the juror, wrote Judge Nancy Vaidik.

Even if he didn't waive the issue, the juror's misconduct didn't warrant a mistrial. Lawson originally had testified he couldn't tell whether the gun was a six- or eight-shot revolver, and when he was put back on the stand, gave the same answer. Lawson's answer to the juror that the gun was a six-shot was actually favorable to Holden, she noted.

"In light of this evidence, the juror's misconduct was not so prejudicial and inflammatory that Holden was placed in a position of grave peril to which he should not have been subjected," she wrote.

The appellate court also noted per Indiana Jury Rule 24, the trial court should have examined the juror under oath in the presence of the parties and outside the presence of the other jurors about her knowledge of the gun, and possibly excused her. Because the court admonished the jurors, asked Lawson the very question the juror had asked outside the courtroom, and his answers were substantially the same, any error in failing to follow Jury Rule 24 was harmless, wrote Judge Vaidik.

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  1. What a fine article, thank you! I can testify firsthand and by detailed legal reports (at end of this note) as to the dire consequences of rejecting this truth from the fine article above: "The inclusion and expansion of this right [to jury] in Indiana’s Constitution is a clear reflection of our state’s intention to emphasize the importance of every Hoosier’s right to make their case in front of a jury of their peers." Over $20? Every Hoosier? Well then how about when your very vocation is on the line? How about instead of a jury of peers, one faces a bevy of political appointees, mini-czars, who care less about due process of the law than the real czars did? Instead of trial by jury, trial by ideological ordeal run by Orwellian agents? Well that is built into more than a few administrative law committees of the Ind S.Ct., and it is now being weaponized, as is revealed in articles posted at this ezine, to root out post moderns heresies like refusal to stand and pledge allegiance to all things politically correct. My career was burned at the stake for not so saluting, but I think I was just one of the early logs. Due, at least in part, to the removal of the jury from bar admission and bar discipline cases, many more fires will soon be lit. Perhaps one awaits you, dear heretic? Oh, at that Ind. article 12 plank about a remedy at law for every damage done ... ah, well, the founders evidently meant only for those damages done not by the government itself, rabid statists that they were. (Yes, that was sarcasm.) My written reports available here: Denied petition for cert (this time around): http://tinyurl.com/zdmawmw Denied petition for cert (from the 2009 denial and five year banishment): http://tinyurl.com/zcypybh Related, not written by me: Amicus brief: http://tinyurl.com/hvh7qgp

  2. Justice has finally been served. So glad that Dr. Ley can finally sleep peacefully at night knowing the truth has finally come to the surface.

  3. While this right is guaranteed by our Constitution, it has in recent years been hampered by insurance companies, i.e.; the practice of the plaintiff's own insurance company intervening in an action and filing a lien against any proceeds paid to their insured. In essence, causing an additional financial hurdle for a plaintiff to overcome at trial in terms of overall award. In a very real sense an injured party in exercise of their right to trial by jury may be the only party in a cause that would end up with zero compensation.

  4. Why in the world would someone need a person to correct a transcript when a realtime court reporter could provide them with a transcript (rough draft) immediately?

  5. This article proved very enlightening. Right ahead of sitting the LSAT for the first time, I felt a sense of relief that a score of 141 was admitted to an Indiana Law School and did well under unique circumstances. While my GPA is currently 3.91 I fear standardized testing and hope that I too will get a good enough grade for acceptance here at home. Thanks so much for this informative post.

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