Rush dissents from transfer in moot bail case, says denial would preserve ‘valuable’ COA ruling

A majority of the Indiana Supreme Court has granted transfer and dismissed as moot an appeal challenging a bail ruling, but Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush penned a partial dissent opining that the grant of transfer vacates a “valuable” Court of Appeals analysis.

The majority justices on Wednesday granted transfer in John Yeager v. State of Indiana, 21S-CR-265, and dismissed the appeal as moot. The state charged defendant John Yeager with felony battery and neglect charges in relation to his girlfriend’s 2-year-old son. His bail was set at $250,000, and the trial court denied his motion to reduce bail.

The Indiana Court of Appeals reversed that denial, noting the Jefferson County pretrial director had recommended Yeager’s release to pretrial supervision and monitoring. Yeager was also deemed a “low” pretrial risk, scoring a 0 in Indiana’s Risk Assessment System.

The state sought transfer, and the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on petition to transfer in November. But while the justices were considering the case, the trial court entered a judgment of conviction and sentencing against Yeager, making the question of pretrial bail moot.

Online court records show Yeager pleaded guilty to Level 5 felony neglect of a dependent resulting in bodily injury and was sentenced to 4½ years, all suspended to probation.

“Being duly advised, the Court GRANTS transfer, thus vacating the Court of Appeals’ opinion. … The Court DISMISSES this appeal as moot,” the Wednesday order says.

But in a partial dissent, Rush said she would have denied transfer rather than granting it to dismiss the appeal.

“This would terminate the parties’ litigation before this Court but would leave valuable Court of Appeals precedent intact,” the chief wrote.

“Like the panel below, I believe the trial court abused its discretion when it denied Yeager’s motion to reduce his $250,000 cash-only bail. … And there’s little room for disagreement,” Rush wrote. “After all, Yeager presented evidence of substantial mitigating factors showing he recognized the court’s authority to bring him to trial; and there was no evidence he posed a risk to the physical safety of either the victim or the community.”

But, Rush continued, the Court of Appeals ordered Yeager’s release on electronic monitoring with a no-contact order in place, “making the decision immediately effective notwithstanding Appellate Rule 65(E). In my view, the proper course would have been to remand the case with instructions to reduce Yeager’s bail and allow the trial court to impose, within its discretion, any other conditions deemed necessary to ensure Yeager’s appearance … .”

“The panel’s disposition, however, does not detract from the utility of its legal analysis on the bail reduction,” Rush continued. She cited to Hobbs v. Lindsey, 240 Ind. 74, 162 N.E.2d 85 (1959), which held that “the object of bail prior to trial is to ensure the presence of the accused when required without the hardship of incarceration before guilt has been proved and while the presumption of innocence is to be given effect.”

“In this case, that object was not met; and the Court of Appeals properly explained why,” Rush concluded. “Thus, I respectfully dissent and would deny transfer.”

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