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Justices find man did not waive his right to jury trial

April 21, 2016

The Indiana Supreme Court reversed and remanded a man’s conviction for Class D felony domestic battery after it found his silence did not constitute a waiver to right of trial by jury.

It also found acknowledging publicly available records as evidence in a trial is minimally sufficient, but is not an encouraged practice and those records should be entered into the court record whenever possible.

Adam Horton was convicted of Class A misdemeanor battery and sought to bifurcate a Class D felony battery charge against him. After he was convicted, the judge asked Horton’s attorney if he would like to waive Horton’s jury trial right on the felony charge. The attorney said yes, and he would like it proceed as a bench trial, but Horton said nothing. Horton was later found guilty of the charge.

During the bench trial, the state asked the court to take notice of another case file in proving Horton’s prior domestic battery conviction, but never entered that into evidence. Horton didn’t object.

Horton appealed and said he did not waive his jury trial rights. He also said because the sentencing order from the prior conviction was unsigned, insufficient evidence supported the felony domestic battery conviction. The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court, and the Supreme Court granted transfer.

The state admitted that Horton did not personally waive his rights, but said the court should make an exception because he had just experienced a jury trial and is more aware of the right his attorney attempts to waive on his behalf. Citing precedent from a few cases, the decision written by Chief Justice Loretta Rush said the court could not grant that exception.

“The personal waiver requirement, rooted in Indiana Code section 35-37-1-2 and longstanding precedent, eliminates an intolerable risk,” Rush wrote. “It ensures that a felony prosecution will not proceed to a bench trial against the defendant’s will by demanding direct evidence that waiver is the defendant’s choice. Given the high stakes of erroneous jury-trial deprivation and the low cost of confirming personal waiver, we see no reason to dilute our time-honored personal waiver requirement by ‘back[ing] away from [the] standard practice’ that ‘Indiana trial courts have clearly adopted.’”

The court also ruled it was not an abuse of the trial court’s discretion to admit evidence from Horton’s prior conviction, even though it was not entered into the record. The information was publicly available and the case number was given, so it was easy to look up. However, not including this information makes it harder on appellate courts, so it should be included whenever possible.

The case is Adam Horton v. State of Indiana, 79S02-1510-CR-628.
 

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