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Monday, June 19, 2006

Ind. Decisions - Evansville attorney disturbed by Supreme Court decision

Last Thursday the Supreme Court issued two related decisions, in Armstrong v. State and Nelson v. State. (Access ILB entry here.)

Today the Princeton Daily Clarion, in an interesting a story by German Lopez, reports:

The decision handed down by the Indiana Supreme Court on Thursday upholding a judge's ruling in the state's case against Michael Armstrong may set a bad precedent for individual liberties, said Evansville defense attorney Ivan Arnaez.

Arnaez, who represents Armstrong and argued the case before the court, said Sunday night that if allowed to stand, the court's decision has long-range implications for anyone accused of a crime and he reiterated his intentions to file an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“This is a very disturbing decision,” he said. “If you have a bad enough case and people want to change case law to get a conviction, they can do so, according to this decision.”

Arnaez said the decision basically changed existing case law and applied it retroactively to Armstrong in order to get a conviction in the case.

“The law was still there on the books (at the time of the incident),” he said. “Even if the law was wrong, it still protected Armstrong until it was changed. It's almost the same as rewriting the statute. And it could mean an unpopular person can be taken care of retroactively.”

More from the story:
On Thursday, the state's highest court upheld Gibson County Judge Earl Penrod's decision not to dismiss a felony charge against Armstrong in connection to the 2003 death of Craig Mobley.

Armstrong was charged in 2003 in Gibson Superior Court with a felony charge of failure to stop after an accident resulting in death.

Armstrong, was driving his Ford Expedition along CR400W in Gibson County when Mobley apparently jumped from the vehicle while it was in motion, according to court records.

Arnaez argued that the charge did not apply to his client because Armstrong's vehicle never struck Mobley, and asked Judge Penrod to dismiss the charge.

Penrod denied the motion, but certified a request by Arnaez to have the Indiana Court of Appeals interpret the statute phrase “involved in an accident.”

The Court of Appeals agreed with Penrod's view that being involved in an accident doesn't require that a vehicle hit another person or object, but just that a vehicle be involved in the accident. But the appellate court stopped short of applying the new interpretation to Armstrong's case retroactively, and ordered the case dismissed.

Gibson County Prosecutor Rob Krieg asked the Indiana Attorney General's office to take the case to the Indiana Supreme Court, and the court agreed to vacate the appellate court's decision in April 2005.

In the Thursday ruling, the high court held that a driver of a vehicle who leaves the scene of an accident resulting in injury or death may be held criminally responsible even if the driver's vehicle didn't strike the injured or deceased party.

And, the court ruled that the charge against Armstrong could go to trial because no due process rights were violated.

Arnaez said he does not dispute that what Armstrong may have done was morally unethical, but maintains that it was not against the law.

“What happened (in the incident) was not premeditated by Armstrong,” he said. “His passenger just decided to jump out. Anyone in that situation couldn't be expected to see things very clearly. Everyone agrees he probably should have stopped, but he wasn't bound to by law.” * * *

Following the Indiana Supreme Court's decision, Armstrong's case is set to return to Gibson Superior Court for a July 25 hearing, but Arnaez said at that time he will inform the court that he intends to file a petition for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear questions in the case.

“We will file a federal question asking whether a law can be applied retroactively to convict someone,” he said. “If they grant the petition that means the court merely agrees to hear arguments. But if they say they want to hear (arguments) it may be a good sign it could reverse the decision of the Indiana Supreme Court.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 19, 2006 08:00 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions