Justices let ruling stand that reserves right to request misdemeanor juries to defendants

An Indiana Court of Appeals ruling that reserved the right to demand a jury trial in misdemeanor cases to defendants has been upheld after the Indiana Supreme Court declined to hear the state’s challenge to that ruling.

The Court of Appeals’ February decision in State of Indiana v. Latasha Bonds, 49A02-1704-CR-770, interpreted Indiana Rule of Criminal Procedure 22 to mean that defendants, not the state, can file a request for a jury trial in misdemeanor proceedings. That issue became relevant when Latasha Bonds requested a bench trial for her charges of Class A misdemeanor carrying a handgun without a license and possession of marijuana.

The Marion Superior Court agreed to hold the bench trial and denied the state’s written demand for a jury trial, finding prosecutors did not have the right to make such a demand. The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed, with Judge Cale Bradford noting that Rule 22 holds that a defendant charged with a misdemeanor must file a written jury trial request with 10 days before the first scheduled trial date.

“Criminal Rule 22, however, makes no mention of any procedure by which the State may request to have the case be tried before a jury,” Bradford wrote. “If the Indiana Supreme Court had intended for the right to trial by jury to be extended to the State, it easily could have indicated that the procedures set forth in Criminal Rule 22 applied in equal force to both the accused and the State.”

The court also found support for its position in Indiana Code section 35-37-1-2, which was amended in 2015 to say that, “Unless a defendant waives the right to a jury trial under the Indiana Rules of Criminal Procedure, all other trials must be by jury.”

The state petitioned the Supreme Court to grant transfer, but the justices unanimously denied the transfer petition last week. The justices also upheld a defamation verdict against home building company that accused its former president of more than $1 million in theft when they denied transfer to Jeff West v. J. Greg Allen Builder Inc., et al., 41A01-1701-CT-182.

In that case, J. Greg Allen Builder, Inc. and Princeton Homes filed suit against Jeff West, the company’s former president who was accused of theft after an investigation revealed multiple accounting discrepancies and financial irregularities. GABI and Princeton then sent a letter to Marion and Johnson County customers, subcontractors and suppliers informing them of the alleged theft.

West responded with a countersuit for defamation, which he won along with $50,000 in presumed damages and $300,000 in punitive damages. A Johnson County jury also found in GABI’s favor on the theft claim, and both parties appealed.

Though the Indiana Court of Appeals upheld the theft verdict, it also upheld the defamation verdict after noting the discrepancy between GABI’s allegations and the jury’s verdict. Specifically, the company alleged West and his assistant stole more than $1 million, while the jury found he caused only $220,000 in damages and stole only $4,000.

But the appellate court did reverse the punitive damages against Allen and his company, finding insufficient evidence to sustain the finding that Allen acted in actual malice when he defamed West.

The court did not grant transfer to any cases last week, but the justices denied transfer to a total of five cases.The full list of transfer actions can be read here.

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