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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides one today

In Dustin E. McCowan v. State of Indiana, an 11-page, 5-0 opinion, Justice Massa writes:

Among the most fundamental precepts of American criminal justice is that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Today we examine our holding in Robey v. State, 454 N.E.2d 1221 (Ind. 1983), and state unequivocally and prospectively that it is the absolute right of every criminal defendant to receive the following jury instruction upon request: “The presumption of innocence continues in favor of the defendant throughout the trial. You should fit the evidence to the presumption that the defendant is innocent if you can reasonably do so.” In this case, however, the jury instructions adequately encompassed these principles, which was the minimum required by prior precedent, and thus the trial court’s failure to use this precise language was not error. * * *

Two passages of our ruling in Robey have proven to be in conflict. The first mandated the trial court include, upon request, a jury instruction as to the presumption of the accused’s innocence continuing throughout the trial, and that the jury should fit the evidence to a theory of innocence if it was reasonable to do so. The second then undid this seemingly bright line rule, in favor of a flexible standard requiring that the jury instructions as a whole must discuss the same principles. Today we resolve that conflict in favor of the rule. We do not believe, however, that the trial court in this matter committed an abuse of discretion in providing jury instructions which satisfied the flexible standard of Robey, given the previous ambiguity in the law. In all other respects, we summarily affirm the holding of our Court of Appeals below, pursuant to Indiana Appellate Rule 58(A)(2).

Posted by Marcia Oddi on March 25, 2015 01:21 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions