Misdemeanor convictions withstand appeal over timing of jury instructions

A Marion County woman who apparently demanded a jury trial after being charged with misdemeanors failed to get her convictions overturned after the Court of Appeals of Indiana found trial courts can choose when to instruct the jury.

Veronica C. Reyes was convicted of Class A misdemeanor resisting law enforcement and Class C misdemeanor reckless driving. On appeal, she argued the Marion Superior Court erred by giving the final jury instructions before, instead of after, the closing arguments.

Reyes tried to overcome the mandate that trial and jury rules trump statutes on matters of procedure. Pointing to past practice and Indiana Code 35-37-2-2, which provides jury instructions are to be given after closing arguments, she argued the presumption should be that final instructions are given last and trial courts must offer a reason if the instructions are given before the closing arguments.

However, the Court of Appeals maintained Reyes’ reading of Jury Rule 26(a) is wrong. The rule gives trial courts the option of when to give the final instructions.

“There are also good reasons to give final instructions before or after closing arguments,” Judge Nancy Vaidik wrote for the court. “Reading final instructions before closing helps the jury better understand the counsels’ arguments about how the law applies to the facts. Further, there would be no guessing during closing as to what the instructions will be.”

The appellate affirmed the convictions in Veronica C. Reyes v. State of Indiana, 21A-CR-2646.

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