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COA orders jury trial on animal cruelty charges

September 28, 2012

An Evansville man convicted of six counts of misdemeanor animal cruelty due to the condition of horses on his property did not knowingly waive his right to a jury trial and, therefore, is entitled to a jury trial, the Indiana Court of Appeals concluded.

Evansville Animal Care and Control went to Steven Duncan’s property to investigate a complaint and found 13 horses that appeared to be neglected, malnourished and ill. Three later had to be euthanized. Duncan admitted to owning and being responsible for the animals, but he offered no explanation for their conditions.

He was charged with 13 counts of Class A misdemeanor animal cruelty. At his initial hearing, Duncan appeared pro se. The judge noted Duncan’s right to a jury trial but did not mention the requirement to timely request a jury trial if one was desired or the consequences of failing to do so. Duncan later was represented by counsel, who did not request a jury trial.

Duncan was convicted of six of the 13 charges.

The Court of Appeals rejected the state’s arguments that Duncan was not prejudiced, that he consented to his counsel’s trial strategy and cannot now object, and that the judges should infer that Duncan was informed of his right to a jury trial because he was later represented by counsel.

But the state conceded that Duncan was not advised of the consequences of failing to ask for a jury trial and he was not advised of the requirement of a written demand for a jury trial 10 days before his scheduled trial date, Chief Judge Margret Robb wrote in Steven Duncan v. State of Indiana, 82A01-1201-CR-22. Having an attorney is not a sufficient substitute for the defendant being expressly advised of his rights, she noted.

The COA also addressed two points raised by Duncan on appeal that may impact his new jury trial – whether the animal cruelty statute is unconstitutionally vague and whether there was sufficient evidence to overcome a defense of necessity.

The judges found the statute is not vague as applied to Duncan and the state presented sufficient probative evidence from which a reasonable trier of fact could have found Duncan guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. They remanded for a jury trial.

 

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