High court agrees to decide future of Indiana’s death penalty

The Indiana Supreme Court will decide whether the state’s method of carrying out the death penalty can stand after the justices agreed to hold oral arguments in an appeal of the Indiana Court of Appeals ruling that voided the current death penalty protocol.

The high court unanimously granted transfer to the case of Roy Ward v. Robert E. Carter, Jr., et al., 46S03-1709-PL-569, last week. In that case, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in June that the Department of Correction’s failure to enact new lethal-injection protocols under the Administrative Rules and Procedure Act, subject to public comment, made the death penalty protocol adopted in May 2014 “void and without effect.” That protocol included a three-drug cocktail that has not yet been used in any state or federal execution.

“Finding the General Assembly has not exempted the DOC from ARPA and that the statutory definition of ‘rule’ clearly includes the DOC’s execution protocols, we reverse,” Judge John Baker wrote in the June opinion, referencing a previous dismissal of the case by the LaPorte Circuit Court.

The appellate court’s ruling came after Roy Ward was sentenced to death for the 2001 rape and murder of 15-year-old Stacy Payne in Spencer County. Ward, who was sentenced in 2007, is one of 12 people on death row in Indiana.

At the time of the June 1 decision, a spokesman for Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said Hill’s office was disappointed with the decision. In its petition for review by the Supreme Court, the state argued the Court of Appeals panel “eschewed … legislative judgment and substituted its own.” Other legal experts said the decision left the future of the death penalty in Indiana in limbo. Oral arguments in the case have not yet been scheduled.

The high court also agreed to hear the case of B.A. v. State of Indiana, 49S02-1709-JV-567, in which delinquency findings were upheld against a 13-year-old who threatened to bomb his school. The Indiana Court of Appeals ruled in March that because an in-school interrogation of 13-year-old B.A. was led by a school official, it did not trigger a Miranda warning, so the trial court did not err in admitting the statements the teenager made during that interrogation. 

Finally, the justices unanimously agreed to decide whether three counts of resisting law enforcement should be entered against a man who was convicted after a single incident.

In Brian L. Paquette v. State of Indiana, 63S04-1709-CR-570, Brian Paquette crossed a median while fleeing police officers in his car and struck two vehicles carrying a total of four passengers, three of whom were killed. Paquette was convicted on three counts of resisting law enforcement – one for each of his victims – but the Indiana Court of Appeals reversed in June, finding only one incident of resisting law enforcement had occurred.

The high court denied transfer to the case of Lucy Mundia v. Drendall Law Office, P.C., 71A05-1610-PL-2388, forcing a South Bend law firm to face a legal malpractice suit. Lucy Mundia filed a malpractice complaint against the Drendall Law Office after Stephen Drendall failed to file a tort claim notice on her behalf against the South Bend Police Department and St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office, which mistakenly released Mundia’s husband, Edward Mwuara, from jail.

Mwuara had been arrested on suspicion of violating a protective order against Mundia’s 6-year-old daughter, Shirley, but authorities misspelled his name upon his arrest. Thus, when a deputy prosecutor checked the protective order registry under the misspelled name, she found no active order, so Mwuara was released. He then attacked Mundia and Shirley, fatally wounding the young girl.

When Mundia brought her malpractice suit against the firm, Drendall claimed the police department and prosecutor’s office were immune under the Indiana Tort Claims Act, so she could not have succeeded on her claims against them even if he had filed the tort claim. The trial court agreed and granted summary judgment to Drendall, but the Indiana Court of Appeals found otherwise and ordered the case to continue to a malpractice trial. A divided Indiana Supreme Court agreed by denying transfer, though justices Mark Massa and Geoffrey Slaughter voted to grant transfer.

The high court denied transfer to 21 other cases last week. The full list of transfer actions can be read here.

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