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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides another today, re "impartial" jury

In Ernesto Roberto Ramirez v. State of Indiana, an 18-page, 5-0 opinion, including a separate concurring opinion, Justice Rush writes:

Every accused has a constitutionally protected right to an impartial jury. We have long recognized that even one juror’s unauthorized contacts and communications may poison the entire jury, but we rely upon trial courts to decide whether a mistrial is the cure. Unfortunately, we have given trial courts inconsistent guidance on both how to make this determination and whether the accused must prove prejudice. Today we clarify our precedent: Defendants are entitled to a rebuttable presumption of prejudice when they can show by a preponderance of the evidence that an unauthorized, extra-judicial contact or communication with jurors occurred, and that the contact or communication pertained to the matter before the jury.

In this case, though, Ernesto Ramirez failed to prove that a juror’s extraneous contact and communications related to his case. As a result, he was not entitled to a presumption of prejudice, and the trial court properly denied his motion for mistrial. We also summarily affirm Ramirez’s sentence. * * *

Federal and Indiana precedent has narrowed the presumption of prejudice to apply in cases where defendants show more than just potential taint—but some Indiana precedent, including our own, has applied that presumption inconsistently. We now clarify its precise scope, and reiterate the proper process for trial courts to address jury taint in the courtroom. We hold that no presumption applies in Ramirez’s case, and that the trial court’s approach in addressing his allegation of jury taint was correct. On all other issues, we summarily affirm the Court of Appeals. Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A)(2). * * *

In cases of suspected jury taint, a presumption of prejudice still applies in limited circumstances. Whenever defendants can prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that a juror engages in unauthorized contacts or communications that are directly related to their case, they are entitled to a presumption of prejudice. The State then bears the burden of showing harmless error. Ramirez has failed to demonstrate that he was entitled to a presumption of prejudice because he has not shown that Juror 282’s incident related to his case or even that the other jurors believed it was. Ramirez’s case was instead one of simple juror misconduct, and he has not demonstrated that he suffered gross misconduct or probable harm. We affirm the trial court’s denial of Ramirez’s motion for a new trial, and summarily affirm the Court of Appeals’ decision to uphold his sentence.

Dickson, C.J., and Rucker and David, JJ., concur.

Massa, J., concurs in result with separate opinion. [which begins, at p. 12 of 18] I agree with my colleagues that the trial court properly denied Ramirez’s motion for a mistrial and appropriately sentenced him to an aggregate term of sixty-two years’ imprisonment for murder and criminal gang activity. I write separately because I would decide this case more narrowly and more simply.

The majority, faced with a plethora of somewhat muddled precedent from both federal and state courts, attempts to create order by carving out a new analytical framework and questioning one of our own prior decisions: Griffin v. State, 754 N.E.2d 899 (Ind. 2001). I prefer a gentler approach. After considering the three seminal federal decisions on this issue, I believe they are fully consistent with each other. What is more, I believe we can synthesize them and articulate a reasonable rule without doing violence to our precedent. * * *

State courts of last resort occupy a unique position in the jurisprudential hierarchy. We are accustomed to being final and thus necessarily infallible, but when we address issues of federal constitutional dimension, we must suspend that custom. Just as our own state trial and intermediate appellate courts must study our opinions and try to apply the rules we articulate, we must study federal Supreme Court opinions, endeavor to distill from them a rule, and apply that rule to the case we are entrusted to decide. I am confident that if we are inadequate to the task, our federal colleagues will so advise us.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 29, 2014 03:07 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions