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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. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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