Justia Constitutional Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Supreme Court of Indiana
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Defendant appealed his convictions for two counts of murder for which the trial court imposed consecutive life without parole sentences. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the evidence was sufficient to sustain the murder convictions; (2) the trial court properly found that the State proved the I.C. 35-50-2-9(b)(11) aggravator beyond a reasonable doubt; (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in admitting into evidence Defendant’s recorded phone calls made to a special agent, as the phone calls were not protected by Defendant's Sixth Amendment right to counsel; and (4) Indiana’s life without parole statutory sentencing scheme is constitutional. View "Leonard v. State" on Justia Law

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Defendant entered a field sobriety checkpoint and was asked if he had been drinking. Defendant admitted that he had. The officer administered some field sobriety tests and ultimately arrested Defendant. Defendant was charged with operating while intoxicated and operating a vehicle with an alcohol concentration of at least .08 but less than .15 grams of alcohol per 210 liters of breath. During trial, Defendant’s counsel objected to the officer’s testimony about him asking Defendant if he had been drinking and Defendant’s response based on a Miranda violation. In response, the State argued that a Miranda warning was not necessary. The trial court then entered an order suppressing any statements made by Defendant, as well as any evidence obtained thereafter. On appeal, the Court of Appeals, dismissed the appeal, ruling that the State had no statutory authority to appeal because Defendant never filed a written motion to suppress and because the order suppressing the evidence was issued during trial. The Supreme Court granted transfer and reversed the trial court’s suppression order, holding (1) the State may appeal from the trial court’s order granting Defendant’s motion to suppress; and (2) Miranda warnings are not required in circumstances such as these, where a defendant is briefly detained at a public sobriety checkpoint. View "State v. Brown" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with felony possession. Defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the police violated the Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution when they opened his car door “to check on [Defendant’s] welfare.” The trial court denied the motion and, after a bench trial, convicted Defendant of misdemeanor possession of cocaine. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that the police’s act of opening Defendant’s door was constitutionally permissible as a reasonable community caretaking function. The Supreme Court granted transfer, thereby vacating the decision of the court of appeals, and affirmed, holding that the police’s warrantless search of Defendant was constitutionally permissible, as the officer had an objectively reasonable basis to open the door and check on Defendant’s well-being. View "Cruz-Salazar v. State" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated in a manner that endangers a person and operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol concentration of at least 0.08. Defendant filed a motion to suppress, claiming that the warrantless traffic stop that led to her arrest was constitutionally invalid. The trial court denied the motion. The court of appeals reversed, holding that the police exceeded their authority under the Fourth Amendment in stopping Defendant’s vehicle out of an alleged concern for Defendant’s medical state. The Supreme Court granted transfer, thus vacating the court of appeals opinion, and reversed the trial court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress, holding that the State failed to carry its burden of showing that an exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment justified the stop. View "Osborne v. State" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of murder, murder in the perpetration of criminal deviate conduct, and related crimes. The State sought a sentence of life without parole, but in the penalty phase, the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict as to whether the State had proven its charged aggravating circumstance. Nonetheless, the trial court sentenced Defendant to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on the murder count. The Supreme Court remanded for a revised sentencing order as to the judge’s conclusion that life imprisonment was the appropriate sentence. On remand, the trial court affirmed the sentence. Defendant appealed, arguing, on grounds not previously raised, that the trial court’s imposition of a life sentence violated the Sixth Amendment because the aggravating factor supporting the sentence was not determined by the trier of fact during the penalty phase. The Supreme Court agreed, holding that the trial court committed reversible error by imposing a sentence of life without parole under the circumstances. In the interests of judicial economy, the Court further exercised its appellate prerogative to sentence Defendant to a term of years. View "Lewis v. State" on Justia Law

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After a jury trial, Defendant was convicted of murder, robbery, and conspiracy to commit robbery. Defendant was sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Defendant appealed, alleging several claims of error. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Defendant was not denied due process in discovery; (2) Defendant was not denied his right to a speedy trial; (3) the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Defendant’s requests to hire DNA and blood spatter experts at public expense; (4) the trial court did not commit fundamental error by allowing unknown witnesses to remain in the courtroom during opening statements despite a separation order; (5) the trial court did not abuse its discretion by allowing the State’s entomologist to testify; (6) the trial court properly admitted evidence found in Defendant’s van; and (7) sufficient evidence supported Defendant’s convictions. View "Griffith v. State" on Justia Law

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Defendant was arrested and charged with several drug-related offenses. Defendant filed a motion to suppress all evidence seized as a result of a search of his home conducted without a warrant. The trial court largely denied the motion. After a jury trial, Defendant was found guilty of four drug-related counts. On appeal, Defendant argued that the police made a warrantless entry into his home without valid consent and that the police conducted an illegal protective sweep once inside. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court’s denial of Defendant’s motion to suppress all evidence seized in the search of his home, holding (1) under the circumstances of this case, Defendant’s house guest, who answered the door to Defendant’s home, did not have the apparent authority to consent to police entry; and (2) because the police did not have a warrant or warrant exception to justify entry into Defendant’s home, the subsequent searches, including the protective sweep, were unlawful, and the fruits of those searches must be suppressed. View "Bradley v. State" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with operating a vehicle with an alcohol concentration equivalent (ACE) of 0.08 or more. At trial, the judge instructed the jury to presume Defendant’s ACE at the time of the offense based on a chemical test that was performed within three hours of his being stopped by law enforcement. The instruction told the jury it “shall presume,” yet also stated that “the presumption is rebuttable.” Defendant appealed, arguing that the instruction amounted to fundamental error because it improperly relieved the State of its burden to prove each element beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court of Appeals agreed and reversed Defendant’s conviction, concluding that the instruction did not make clear that the presumption was merely permissible. The Supreme Court granted transfer, thus vacating the opinion below, and affirmed, holding that the instruction did not unconstitutionally shift the State’s burden of proof in violation of Defendant’s due process rights. View "Pattison v. State" on Justia Law

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Thomas Hale appealed his conviction for dealing in methamphetamine, on the sole grounds that the trial court abused its discretion in failing to grant him, at public expense, depositions of two State’s witnesses. After review, the Indiana Supreme Court found that prior precedent compelled the Court to agree with Hale and reverse his conviction. The Court took the opportunity of this case to provide guidance as to how trial courts should address such motions in the future. View "Hale v. Indiana" on Justia Law

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Defendant was charged with two D-felony counts of strangulation and two counts of domestic battery, one of which was elevated to a D-felony based on a prior domestic battery conviction. Defendant moved to bifurcate the D-felony domestic battery charge. The jury found Defendant guilty of the misdemeanor domestic battery and not guilty of the strangulation charges. The judge then asked Defendant’s counsel whether Defendant would like to waive his right to a jury trial on the D-felony domestic battery charge. Defendant remained silent while his attorney told the judge that Defendant intended to proceed as a bench trial on the second phase of the bifurcated trial. After a bench trial on the second phase Defendant was found guilty of the D-felony domestic battery. Defendant appealed, arguing that he did not validly waive his state and federal constitutional jury trial rights. The Supreme Court reversed Defendant’s conviction for D-felony domestic battery, holding that the trial court committed fundamental error by proceeding to trial absent personal waiver of his constitutional jury trial right by Defendant himself. Remanded for a new trial. View "Horton v. State" on Justia Law