The Indiana Supreme Court wants state trial judges to offer written guidance if and when courthouse or jury security concerns come up during trial.
In its Friday decision in Chawknee Caruthers v. State of Indiana, No. 46S05-0910-CR-431, the state’s five justices analyzed a high-profile murder case before LaPorte Superior Judge Kathleen Lang in 2008. The case involves Chawknee Caruthers’ shooting and killing a man after mistaking him for someone else, and a jury found Caruthers guilty of murder.
During the trial, the court took extra security measures to address juror concerns that aren’t specified in the record. The court ruling says that Caruthers’ lawyer, James Cupp from Michigan City, made a statement on the final day of trial: “There apparently is some information afloat which I would characterize as somewhat a thinly veiled allegation of jury tampering, and that concerns me greatly. Apparently, someone somewhere has received some information from a juror or jurors that one or more of them, the jurors, are feeling intimidated by actions that such juror or jurors attribute to my client. I wanted to make a record of that, Your Honor, because I think it’s a very serious allegation …”
Cupp didn’t ask the court to take any action, according to the Supreme Court decision, and the trial continued and resulted in the jury convicting Caruthers of murder and finding him to be a habitual offender. At the sentencing hearing, the trial judge acknowledged the extra security and alternative parking for jurors and said the court advised them of the ministerial aspects of the precautions, but no one ever informed the judge about anyone being personally approached or threatened.
On appeal, Caruthers argued the trial court didn’t adequately interrogate the jury about the effect those security concerns had on their impartiality. The Court of Appeals issued a 2-1 decision last year reversing the convictions, finding the lower court should have at least inquired about the issue.
But the justices disagree with that.
“To require jury interrogations in any case that calls for heightened security measures would amount to an extreme precaution against jury bias,” Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard wrote, turning to precedent to say that it can’t infer prejudice when none is shown and no relationship appears to exist between a juror and one of the parties.
But even with that, the justices do point out that lower court judges should offer as much guidance as possible to allow appellate courts to adequately review circumstances.
“We acknowledge that best practice would have been for the trial court to enter its observations into the record at the time action was taken, giving further description of the nature of the jurors’ concerns and its reasoning for taking the security measures it did and not anything more,” the chief justice wrote.