Justices spell out required 'presumption of innocence' jury instruction

March 25, 2015

A convicted murderer who didn’t receive a requested jury instruction on the presumption of innocence lost his appeal Wednesday, but the Indiana Supreme Court used the case to impart an exact instruction trial courts must use going forward upon request.

“Today we examine our holding in Robey v. State, 454 N.E.2d 1221 (Ind. 1983), and state unequivocally and prospectively that it is the absolute right of every criminal defendant to receive the following jury instruction upon request: “The presumption of innocence continues in favor of the defendant throughout the trial. You should fit the evidence to the presumption that the defendant is innocent if you can reasonably do so,” Justice Mark Massa wrote for the court.

The ruling, though, provided no relief for appellant Dustin E. McCowan, who was convicted in Porter Superior Court of the murder of Amanda Bach and sentenced to 60 years in prison.

“In this case, however, the jury instructions adequately encompassed these principles, which was the minimum required by prior precedent, and thus the trial court’s failure to use this precise language was not error,” Massa wrote in Dustin E. McCowan v. State of Indiana, 64S03-1408-CR-516.

Justices otherwise affirmed the Court of Appeals ruling in all respects affirming McCowan’s conviction.



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