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COA: Group voir dire did not violate right to impartial jury

July 19, 2017

An Indianapolis man who attempted to rob a pharmacy in a city more than an hour away was not denied his right to an impartial jury by the use of group voir dire, the Indiana Court of Appeals held Wednesday.

While working at a Kroger pharmacy in Brazil in May 2016, Sarah Cox and two pharmacy technicians noticed two men wearing black baseball caps who were “peeking backward” toward the pharmacy. Having been warned of a recent rash of robberies by individuals wearing hats or hoodies, Cox alerted the manager and other employees of the situation, while another employee called 911.

The men in baseball caps quickly left when the store began its emergency protocol, but city of Brazil police officers apprehended one of the men, Stacy Lamont Griffin, who initially gave a fake name, outside of the store. A handwritten note was found in Griffin’s pants pocket, reading, “This is a Robbery Please Corporate (sic) or I will kill you… .” The note went on to list three opioid-based drugs to be stolen.

A second man, Robert Coleman, was later apprehended, and after receiving a tip from a woman in a nearby store, officers found a loaded semi-automatic gun in a trash can. Griffin told officers Coleman had disposed of the gun and said Coleman had handed him the note while they were inside the store, but denied reading it.

The state charged Griffin with attempted robbery as a Level 5 felony, conspiracy to commit robbery and false informing. Griffin filed a pretrial motion for individual voir dire based on media coverage and a motion to prohibit the “rehabilitation” of prospective jurors from asking the “Magic Question,” or whether they could set aside their biased opinions and render an impartial verdict. The Clay Circuit Court substantially denied Griffin’s motions, but reduced the number of jurors to be examined at once from 18 to 12.

Griffin’s false informing charge was then dismissed and he was acquitted on the conspiracy to commit robbery charge. For his guilty verdict of robbery as a Level 5 felony, Griffin was sentenced to six years in prison.

On appeal in Stacy Lamont Griffin v. State of Indiana, 11A05-1609-CR-2084, Griffin argued he was denied an impartial jury because the court allowed group voir dire, which led to the jury panel being exposed to “’a number of accounts of the offense.’” Specifically, four jurors selected to serve indicated they had heard something about the case, and another prospective juror “thought” that Griffin “was involved.”

But the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the use of group voir dire, with Judge L. Mark Bailey writing that only one juror served after alluding to Griffin’s guilt or innocence, and that juror told the court she could set her preliminary opinion aside and follow the instructions of the court.

“Ultimately, ‘jurors need not be totally ignorant of the facts involved in order for a defendant to receive a fair trial,’” Bailey wrote, quoting Collins v. State, 826 N.E.2d 671, 676 (Ind. Ct. App. 2005).

Further, Bailey said the evidence, including the fact that Griffin tried to give a fake name and that Coleman disposed of the gun, was sufficient to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that he intended to rob the Kroger pharmacy and had taken a substantial step toward doing so. Finally, the appellate court found Griffin failed to prove his six-year sentence was inappropriate.
 

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