Instructions not to letter of the law, but no harm done

September 16, 2013

A trial court’s failure to give jury instructions that strictly adhered to the language contained in the Indiana Code and Indiana Jury Rule was not grounds for the Indiana Court of Appeals to overturn a guilty verdict.

Larry Lyons Jr. was found guilty of Class B felony dealing in methamphetamine and Class D felony methamphetamine possession. He appealed the verdict, arguing the trial court committed fundamental error by not properly instructing the jury.

The Court of Appeals ruled in Larry Lyons, Jr. v. State of Indiana, 26A01-1208-CR-331, that while the lower court did fail to give complete instructions to the jury, the defendant could not establish the failure caused him harm.

The trial court did not advise the jury alternates that they were not to participate in deliberations. Also, the court did not tell the bailiff to confiscate all electronic devices.

On both charges, the Court of Appeals did not find proof that the jury violated the rules. The COA pointed out there is “absolutely no evidence” that the alternates participated in deliberations or impacted the decision making.

Moreover, even though the bailiff did not collect electronic devices, the jurors were instructed not to use their computers, cell phones or other high-tech items during deliberations. Again, the judges noted there is nothing in the record to rebut the presumption that the jurors followed the trial court’s instruction even if they retained possession of their devices.



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