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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Ind. Decisions - Supreme Court decides one today, re waiver of jury trial

In Adam Horton v. State of Indiana, a 12-page, 5-0 opinion, Chief Justice Rush writes:

The Indiana Constitution guarantees the right to jury trial, which may be waived by one, and only one, person—the defendant. Unless the defendant personally communicates to the judge a desire to waive that right, he must receive a jury trial.

Here, Defendant Adam Horton merely remained silent while his attorney requested a bench trial on the second phase of a bifurcated trial, where the State sought to prove a D-felony domestic battery charge based on a prior conviction. Because Horton’s silence falls well short of personal waiver, the trial court committed fundamental error in proceeding to a bench trial. We therefore reverse and remand for a new trial on the D-felony domestic battery charge.

Even though the ineffective jury trial waiver is dispositive, we also address Horton’s insufficient-evidence claim because it raises an important question about judicial notice of court records. The trial court convicted Horton of the felony-level domestic battery offense based on judicial notice of its own file in a prior case, in which Horton had been convicted of misdemeanor domestic battery. We conclude that when a trial court takes judicial notice of a “record of a court” under Indiana Evidence Rule 201(b)(5), unambiguously identifying the publicly available records may be minimally sufficient. But the better approach, when practical, is to enter the particular documents into the record, so that both the litigants and appellate courts can know with certainty what evidence the court considered. The trial court’s omission of those documents here impedes our review but does not constitute error.* * *

On appeal, Horton argued that he did not validly waive his Indiana and federal constitu-tional jury trial rights and that because the sentencing order from the prior conviction was unsigned, insufficient evidence supported the felony domestic battery conviction.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court on both issues. It first held that Horton “knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently” waived his jury trial right because he had just been through a jury trial on the A-misdemeanor domestic battery count. Horton v. State [NFP], No. 79A02-1410-CR-765, slip op. at 9 (Ind. Ct. App. July 28, 2015). It further held that sufficient evidence supported the D-felony domestic battery conviction because although the sentencing order was not signed, the judge also took judicial notice of its case file from the prior conviction, with no objection from Horton. Id. at 5–7. We granted Horton’s petition to transfer to consider these issues. * * *

We decline to abandon the well-established requirement that a felony defendant personally communicate waiver of the Indiana constitutional jury trial right. By proceeding to trial absent personal waiver by Horton himself, the trial court committed fundamental error. But under the circumstances here, it was not an abuse of discretion to take judicial notice of the court records showing Horton’s prior conviction without formally entering them into the record. Therefore, although we do not disturb Horton’s conviction for Class A misdemeanor domestic battery, we reverse his conviction for D-felony domestic battery and remand with instructions to proceed to a new trial limited to that count.

Posted by Marcia Oddi on April 21, 2016 02:56 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions