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Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides two today

In In re Mental Health Actions for A.S., Sara Townsend, a 7-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice David writes:

The Indiana Code provides a mechanism for individuals to seek immediate emergency treatment for individuals they believe to be a threat to themselves or others. Here, a woman’s co-worker completed an application to initiate just such a process, which led a trial court judge to issue a warrant for the woman’s detention and treatment. The judge later grew skeptical as to the truth of the allegations set forth in the application and ordered the co-worker to appear in court, found her in contempt, and imposed sanctions. Because we conclude that the trial court lacked the statutory authority to find the co-worker in contempt, and because the co-worker’s actions did not place her under the trial court’s authority to impose sanctions as an inherent power of the judiciary, we reverse. * * *

Townsend appealed. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court lacked statutory authority to find Townsend in indirect civil contempt. In re Mental Health Actions for A.S., 997 N.E.2d 30, 35–36 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013). But it nevertheless upheld the trial court’s order directing Townsend to pay A.S.’s hospital bill and attorney fees, and the fine paid to the hospital, as a legitimate exercise of the trial court’s inherent powers to issue reasonable sanctions to protect the integrity of the court and prevent abuse of the judicial process. Id. at 36–37. We granted transfer, thereby vacating the Court of Appeals opinion. In re Mental Health Actions for A.S., Sara Townsend, 3 N.E.3d 975 (Ind. 2014) (table); Ind. Appellate Rule 58(A). * * *

Townsend’s role in this matter began and ended with her completion of the application for emergency detention. And that action did not even take place in the courthouse. Rather, Townsend went to the hospital, completed the application with a social worker, and had no further part to play once she signed the paperwork. It was the hospital that then faxed the physician-endorsed application to the court. And it was the trial court that approved the application and issued the warrant to detain A.S. * * *

A trial court cannot simply otherwise hale a citizen into court and sanction him or her. The inherent power of the judiciary to impose sanctions, while flexible and significant, begins and ends with the courtroom and the judicial process. Thus, because we conclude that the trial court here lacked authority for its contempt finding, and because Townsend otherwise committed no misconduct once the legal proceedings were initiated, she is outside the trial court’s inherent power to impose sanctions.

Conclusion. We reverse the trial court’s judgment finding Townsend in contempt and imposing sanctions upon her.

In McLynnerd Bond, Jr. v. State of Indiana, an 11-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice David writes:
In this case, a police detective interrogated an African-American murder suspect. We have long held that law enforcement officers conducting interrogations may use a range of tactics and techniques to persuade suspects to provide incriminating statements. And we understand that simple question-and-answer methods will not always be successful. But the flexibility afforded to law enforcement is still bound by state and federal constitutional protections.

Over the course of several hours the detective here employed a number of interrogation techniques to convince the suspect to admit his guilt. Most of these techniques were acceptable. But when he implied that the suspect’s race precluded him from receiving a fair trial and an impartial jury, he went too far. * * *

On February 25, 2011, the State charged Bond with murder. He filed a motion to suppress his statement, claiming that it was involuntarily given in violation of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, § 14 of the Indiana Constitution. After a two-day hearing in which the detective and Bond both testified, the trial court denied Bond’s motion. It noted, however, that “[t]he suggestion by the detective that the defendant could not receive a fair and impartial jury due to the location of the Courthouse causes great concern to the Court, and is strongly discouraged.” Bond sought an interlocutory appeal and the Court of Appeals accepted jurisdiction.

The Court of Appeals affirmed in an unpublished memorandum decision. Bond v. State, (Ind. Ct. App. May 31, 2013). The majority of the panel—like the trial court judge—“d[id] not approve of the comment” made by the detective and considered it “inappropriate,” but found that in viewing the interrogation in its entirety, it did not appear that the comment brought about Bond’s confession. Judge Kirsch dissented and would have reversed the denial of Bond’s motion to suppress because of the detective’s comment. Id. at *6 (Kirsch, J., dissenting). We granted transfer, thereby vacating the Court of Appeals decision. * * *

A police officer may engage in a number of tactics and techniques to induce a confession without rendering that confession involuntary. “Such questioning is undoubtedly an essential tool in effective law enforcement,” and “[t]he line between proper and permissible police conduct and techniques and methods offensive to due process is, at best, a difficult one to draw.” Haynes v. Washington, 373 U.S. 503, 515 (1963). But today we hold that intentionally misleading a suspect as to his constitutionally guaranteed rights to a fair trial and an impartial jury, because of his race, sits squarely on the wrong side of that line.

Conclusion. The trial court below concluded that, despite its great concern, “there is no caselaw that the Court is aware of that holds that this type of persuasion renders the confession involuntary.” We clearly understand the trial court’s predicament. But now there is. We reverse the trial court’s denial of Bond’s motion to suppress and remand this case for further proceedings.

The Bond case was the subject of by Dan Carden in the the NWI Times on Feb. 7th, following the oral argument. Today Tim Evans of Indianapolis Star has posted a story on the opinion, headed "Officer’s comments to black suspect went too far, Supreme Court rules."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on May 13, 2014 12:33 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions