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Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ind. Decisions - "Drane’s rape, murder conviction overturned"; yet another "NFP" decision of general interest

The Gary Post-Tribune reports today:

CROWN POINT — The Indiana Court of Appeals has reversed the murder and rape conviction of Ronnie Dontell Drane of Gary, who was found guilty in connection with the 2002 strangulation death of a Hammond woman.

The appeals court found that the state failed to produce sufficient evidence to convict Drane, 32, who was charged with murder in the perpetration of a rape in the death of Tamarra Taylor, 25.

On Feb. 23, 2005, Lake Superior Court Judge pro tem Thomas Webber Sr. convicted Drane of the crimes and sentenced him to 85 years in prison. * * *

Deputy Attorney General Ryan Johanningsmeier said he will file a petition for rehearing to ask the appeals court to reconsider its June 29 ruling.

If the petition is denied, Johanningsmeier can appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court.

If the court grants the petition, the case can be returned to Lake County for a new trial. It could be two to three months before the appeals court announces its decision on the rehearing petition.

Meanwhile, Drane has another murder trial scheduled for Oct. 16 in Lake County.

Although this is a reversal, the panel determined it did not meet the criteria of Appellate Rule 65, and designated the 15-page opinion as Not for Publication (NFP). Thus it is not available on the court website, and does not have precedential value. Here is the docket entry:
Case Number: 45 A 04 - 0503 - CR - 00164
6/29/06 2006 TERM
REVERSED---------------CRONE, J.
This NFP case follows on the NFP decision involving libel issues denied transfer by the Supreme Court reported on in stories earlier this week - see ILB entries here and here.

The ILB has posted numerous entries* over the past few years arguing that the rationale behind the "NFP" designation has passed. The "NFP" designation of Indiana Court of Appeals opinions means two things: (1) the ruling is neither posted online nor published; (2) the opinion does not have precedential value (except in narrow circumstances).

One reason behind the rule, the cost of printing, of course no longer exists -- it has vanished with digitization. Another rationale I've heard, and this goes to the precedential aspect, is that this is an (some might say "paternalistic") effort on the part of the court to relieve attorneys of the burden of unnecessary reading. That too, however, seems grounded in an earlier time, without the research technology of today's world.

At least 3 out of 4 Court of Appeals opinions issued are designated NFP. As of 8/19/05, the ILB began posting, with the agreement of the Office of the Clerk of the Indiana Courts, the weekly list of the Court's NFP opinions. One thing this list of the week's NFP opinions makes clear is the enormous amount of work the Court of Appeals judges produce. These NFP opinions are not brief notations, as on the federal level, but full-blown opinions. We are only privy to at most 25% of the work product of the Court of Appeals judges. This makes it more difficult for us when the time comes to "judge the judges."

Opinions designated by the Court of Appeals panel as "not-for-publication" currently are neither generally available nor citeable. But they are public documents. Why should they not be made available online, along with the other rulings of the Court of Appeals?
*For some earlier ILB entries on the NFP issue, see: Oct. 21, 2005; July 13, 2005; July 15, 2005.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on July 27, 2006 07:57 AM
Posted to Ind. App.Ct. Decisions